With the arrival of Sullivan “Sul” Ross as president, the college evolved past its humble beginnings. As years passed and the institution expanded, including the construction of a new and bigger mess hall in 1898, Bernard and his family became living landmarks—local icons of Old Army life. Cadets came to love his commitment to his craft and Johanna’s warm and consoling disposition. For those students who felt homesick in College Station, the Sbisas embodied the families they left behind.
The couple continued their work with their vetted kitchen staff, diligently producing three meals per day for up to 1,200 students at a time. They took lodgings on the second floor of the mess hall to stay close to the kitchen. Bernard prided himself on punctuality, never delivering a single meal late…until one fateful morning in 1911 when his livelihood went up in flames once again.
Born in Austria, Bernard Sbisa spent most of his childhood in New Orleans. After operating a series of hotels as a young entrepreneur, he became steward of subsistence at Texas A&M. He prepared three meals per day for the entire student body and faculty for more than 50 years.
The fire started sometime before dawn. Bernard woke to the sound of alarms and ran out of the mess hall. While students formed bucket lines to stifle the blaze engulfing his beloved building, he focused on gathering materials and finding a place to cook breakfast. He made no attempt to save any of his belongings.
As the fire neared its end, faculty members conducted an emergency meeting to discuss how the college’s needs would be accommodated. Bernard interrupted to confidently announce that he would serve breakfast before 11 o’clock, stunning the faculty with his declaration. Shortly thereafter, he and his staff dug ditches and procured wood for barbecue fires. They gathered stray wash pots and utensils, borrowed field kitchenware that was intended for military camping exercises and began cooking in the open air. Breakfast was served at 10:30 a.m., picnic style. It was the only meal Bernard served late.
After the last embers of the mess hall fire died out, the college faculty elected to break for winter holiday early while they began planning temporary accommodations and a permanent replacement. Construction on the new dining hall began soon after with the words “Bernard Sbisa Hall” cut into its cornerstone.
Johanna succumbed to a heart attack in 1919. Bernard continued serving the college until he passed away while visiting his daughter in Havana, Cuba, in 1928. He had invested his heart, soul and last 50 years to providing the best meals he could muster for what he once called “the finest set of young men in the world,” the Corps of Cadets.
When workers finished Sbisa Dining Hall in 1913, it was considered the “largest unobstructed dining room in the world.” It may not carry that claim today, but it still bears the recognizable name of a man whose pure, unfettered passion to do his job and do it right earned him the respect of all whom he served.