FORT JACKSON, SC, UNITED STATES
Story by Alexandra Shea
Fort Jackson’s landscape has seen many changes throughout the years as it transitioned from Camp Jackson of yesterday to the largest Basic Combat Training post today. “Daddy Ike” witnessed all the changes the installation has undergone since 1950.
“I started here when I was 13 and a half,” said Ernest Robinson, who is often referred to as Daddy Ike by his co-workers and friends. “Back in the day we didn’t have much. I was raised by a single mother. I came out here with a group of other men to be a golf caddy.”
Daddy Ike washed dishes for roughly two years before becoming one of the club’s cooks.
“I didn’t want to be out here all this time and not learn a profession,” he said. “So I started watching the cooks and learned how to prepare the food. We were having a big day this particular night at the Officer’s Club and this guy back there cooking lobster tail and prime rib didn’t show up.”
After learning of the employee’s absence that evening, Daddy Ike stepped up to the manager and said he could perform the cook’s job. The manger gave him a chance and allowed him to cook the evening’s lobster tail and prime rib.
“He put me on it and I did an outstanding job,” Daddy Ike said. “I cooked from that time all the way up until two years ago.”
Over the years, Daddy Ike has worked at the Officer’s Club, Enlisted Men’s Club and now the NCO Club. He has also served supervisor and manager duties in addition to cooking and dishwashing.
“Ike Robinson is a staple at the NCO Club,” said Carol Coveney, club manager. “He treats all the employees and customers like family. He is full of empathy for everyone, and truly loves the military and being part of Fort Jackson.”
Daddy Ike’s experience as a cook also landed him a chance to help design the kitchens at the Enlisted Men’s Club that once sat in close proximity to the movie theater.
Throughout the years, Daddy Ike would get married, have three children and purchase three homes. One of his sons, Ernest Jr., would work alongside his father in the NCO Club before he graduated from high school and enlisted in the Marines.
Ernest Jr., would be the first in his Family to enlist into military service. Daddy Ike would try several times to enlist himself but be rejected. For years he would begin the entrance process and complete the physical exam and several weeks later would receive his rejection letter that classified him as 1Y.
“For years I thought something was wrong with me medically,” he said. “It wasn’t until I talked to a sergeant that I learned different.”
During this time in his life, Daddy Ike wasn’t accepted for enlisted or draft because he was an only male child – meaning if he were to be killed in action, there would be no male heir to carry on his family’s name.
He said he would have thought about becoming a cook if he would have been able to enlist. Though Daddy Ike would be denied the chance to serve his country in uniform, he would continue on for many years serving Soldiers, government service employees, veterans and their Families.
In 2018, at age 80, Daddy Ike was asked to come out of the heart of the NCO Club, the kitchen. Well past standard retirement age for both retirement benefits and social security benefits, Daddy Ike wasn’t prepared to hang his apron up completely.
“He now prepares all the cornbread and maintains the buffet line for breakfast and lunch in the dining area. He is all about team work, ensuring customer satisfaction as well as the success of the NCO Club,” Coveney said. “When regular customers think of the NCO Club they think of Mr. Ike. Many of them visit here just to see him.”
Instead, he reduced the days he works to three and began greeting customers for the NCO Club’s lunch buffet. He also ensures the buffet stays well stocked, clean and attractive.
“They asked me to work in the front to meet and greet the people and keep the food up,” he said. “That was fine by me because I love talking to people. I‘m gonna tell you, I have numerous friends now.”
Daddy Ike said he has in fact made such good friends that when he needed to take a leave of absence due to a knee surgery, his new found friends flooded him with get well cards, balloons and flowers.
“I’ve never had a bad day at the NCO Club,” he said.
Future plans for Daddy Ike include making the most of enjoying his time at the NCO Club as well as spending time with his family and friends.
He has made no mention of officially hanging up his apron, and until that day comes, Daddy Ike can be found in the club’s dining room or stocking the buffet, either or which he does with a smile.
“If I had to do it all over again,” he said. “I’d do it the same way.”
Robinson’s 70-year career began as a caddy for the Fort Jackson Golf Club. It only took a day as a golf caddy before Daddy Ike learned about a dishwashing vacancy at the Officer’s Club. Through persistence and a willingness to prove his worth, Daddy Ike was employed by the club within a week making $.62 an hour.
“I heard the Officer’s Club needed some help washing dishes,” he said.
“So, I came out here and started washing dishes.”