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Life’s 2 Short: The adventure of Evangel’s new food services director, Todd Lanning

August 5, 2012 | Ashli O'Connell

When you meet Todd Lanning, the first thing you’ll notice about him is the passionate energy with which he approaches everything he does. As the new food service director for Evangel University, Lanning brings that enthusiasm to Crusader Dining Hall and the entire campus. For Lanning, it’s not just about food service. It’s about being a part of a family, educating students about nutrition and food choices, meeting the unique needs of all the who dine at Evangel and raising everything he does “to the next level.”

Lanning comes to Evangel with more than 20 years of experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry, most of that in collegiate dining service. Most recently he served as food services director at Missouri State University for 10 years.

But what fascinates most people who hear Lanning’s story is not the years he’s spent working on land, but the ones he spent not working on the water.

A tragedy and a dream

Life's 2 Short

Todd and Brenda Lanning spent five and a half years living on their 40-foot trawler, “Life’s 2 Short.”

Just prior to coming to work at Evangel, Lanning and his wife, Brenda, took a five-year mini-retirement and did what many dream of but never manage to pull off  –  selling all their possessions and living on a boat, traveling with the seasons, and making their home in places such as the Florida Keys, the Bahamas and the Tennessee River System.

Lanning always had planned to live on a boat after he retired. Having grown up in a family of avid boaters, he was wearing a life jacket before he could walk. When he met Brenda in 1995, he introduced her to the hobby, which she also fell in love with. Fittingly, they were married on the water several years later.

Together they made plans to “drop whatever we were doing” at age 50 and implement Todd’s plan. He displayed a T-shirt in his office that read, “Sell your stuff, keep the dog, live on a boat.” It was his life’s dream.

But a tragedy fast-tracked the plans.

In September 2005, the Lannings were boating in Tennessee with their best friends, Duane and Sue Teale. It was Duane who had introduced the Lannings to each other, and the couples had become fast friends, boating together every year.

On the final day of their 2005 vacation, Duane Teale had an aneurysm. He died on the boat in Lanning’s arms. “With the sudden passing of Duane, we both realized that life can take unexpected turns at any time,” Lanning says.

They adopted the motto, “You can always make more money, but you can’t make more time.”

Though he was only 47, Lanning was ready to make his life dream a reality. The Lannings took early retirement from their jobs, sold everything they owned and bought a 40-foot trawler they named, “Life’s 2 Short.” They set sail from Florida in May of 2006. Because the Lannings do not have children, it was relatively easy for them to take the trip when they did.

The Lannings lived on the water for the next five years, journeying 24,000 miles along the East Coast, Florida Keys, Bahamas and Tennessee River System. They had no plans other than to “head south whenever the butter hardened.” It was an adventure they’ll never forget.

“We feel so blessed to do what we did,” says Lanning. “I believe everything happens for a reason.” He says the highlight of the experience was meeting the other people on the water. “You’d be surprised how many people are out there living on boats – retired couples, young families who are homeschooling their children, multi-millionaires, people who are probably running from the law. We just met so many people.”

It was the adventure of a lifetime, but all good things must come to an end. After about five and a half incredible years, the Lannings were ready to return to dry land, a home larger than 40 feet, day jobs and spending time with their aging parents. Lanning says they plan to return to life on the water eventually, but will probably keep a town home in Florida so they have a place to call home when they are ready for a break.

A new chapter

In 2012, Todd Lanning was asked to take the position of food services director for Evangel University. Passionate about working on a college campus, Lanning felt Evangel was the perfect fit. He started work during the summer, overseeing a vast remodeling project for the Crusader Dining Hall and the Joust (the student union).

He is ecstatic about the opportunity to work at Evangel. “From the moment I stepped on campus, Evangel felt like home,” he says.

“Everyone at Evangel is family. It’s a different atmosphere than anywhere I’ve worked before. This is not the political beast that some of my positions have been.”

Lanning says the thing he loves most about working on a college campus is relating to students. His office at Evangel is just about 30 feet from the dining hall, and he plans to walk out to meet with students frequently. “I’ll be the guy who will just come sit down with them and ask about their lives and see what feedback they have about the food service,” he says.

“I want students to know they can always come to me if they have a problem or a suggestion.”

He also plans to interact with students through “town hall” style meetings in the residence halls. “I’ll take one of my managers and a cook and we’ll go to the halls with refreshments and meet with students to keep the communication open.”

Lanning says he understands that parents have concerns about sending their sons and daughters away to college. “I want parents to rest assured that their students are in very capable hands. I have an open-door policy and I will address special needs and issues that arise.”

The “Sell your stuff, keep the dog, live on a boat” T-shirt will probably not be on display in his office at Evangel. “I feel so blessed to do what I did, and while I still miss that lifestyle, I’m happy to be back on the dirt and ready to work.”

— Ashli O’Connell, Web content developer and editor for Evangel University

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