Dee Slater is a Laurel icon at the Route 1 Dunkin' Donuts, where she's welcomed customers with smiles and laughter for the past 38 years.
Wednesday morning was just another workday, Slater said, but with an added bonus as Laurel Mayor Craig Moe stopped by to declare Sept. 13, 2017 "Dee Slater Day" to honor the Baltimore resident for her decades of dedication to her job.
Dunkin' staff and customers huddled around Slater, while the franchise's signature-colored orange and pink balloons bobbled to celebrate the special occasion.
Slater said she was "so thankful" to the city, staff and customers.
"Oh boy! God is so wonderful," Slater said. "The customers are so good to me. I love them all so much. That's what it's all about: loving each other."
According to the mayor's office, the city recognizes individuals, like Slater, as well as businesses that make positive contributions to Laurel and its residents.
Slater, who grew up on her family's tobacco farm in Calvert County's Lusby, said she's spent nearly 40 years driving her 40-minute commute from Baltimore to the Laurel Dunkin' Donuts, where she works the weekday morning shift from 4:30 to 10:30 a.m. Prior to that, Slater worked at a garden apartment development in Laurel, cleaned houses and held a job at a sandwich shop in Northwest Washington.
When she isn't working, Slater said she is side-by-side with her husband, James, who is continuing his battle with leukemia. A retired federal worker, he undergoes chemotherapy five days a week once a month as well as blood transfusions every month.
"We've been married almost 40 years and we take the good and the bad," Slater said. "The only thing I'm bringing is my love and spreading the word and having faith; believe in the Lord and everything will work out."
Customers say Slater has a knack for offering flourishing and energetic conversation when it comes to greeting and serving them.
Marie Quillin, of Laurel, said she and her children have stopped by the Dunkin' Donuts many times over the years and gotten to know Slater. Quillin described Slater as "dependable, boisterous, funny and polite."
"She's been a fixture at Dunkin' Donuts for years," Quillin said. "She knows my order — a cold brew and a sesame bagel — but she will mention it if she hasn't seen me in awhile. I do see her know plenty of people's orders."
Quillen said it was "wonderful" for the mayor to recognize Slater's hard work, Quillin said.
Fulton resident Dan Clifford said he used to be a frequent customer at the coffee shop, where he went every weekday morning for "a large black and two donuts" on his commute to Washington, D.C. A former Laurel resident, Clifford said he tries to stop by every now and then to see if she remembers his order.
Clifford said Slater is "half drill sergeant, half fairy godmother."
"I'm confident she'd snap right at me and say, 'What are your two donuts?'" he said. "She greets every customer with a perfect mix of warmth balanced by a no-nonsense, 'What are you having, baby?' If the staff there isn't moving quickly enough, she'll offer a quick admonishment to them and smile at you like a wise sage. It's really quite disarming."
Ketan Bhalani, the location's franchisee, said Slater "definitely deserves" the recognition. She is a big reason why people stop at the location to start their day, he said.
"She puts out so much positive energy and gets people's days going," Bhalani said. "Her enthusiasm and attitude is infectious and she takes ownership of the restaurant. She makes sure every customer is taken care of and every employee is trained well; things that may go beyond the scope of her job."
Slater said she thanks God for blessing her life with good people, including her customers.
"I wish I could sit down and work a computer, but I don't do it because God didn't give me that talent," she said. "He gave me the talent to take care of the people."
So what will Slater do for Dee Slater Day?
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"What is there to do besides thank God I'm alive and go home to take care of my husband. Party days are gone," she said, laughing. "I just want to do the right thing, take care of my husband, my family and the customers. I want to give as much love as I can give them. I want to give love all over the world, not just here."