Balto. Co. school's 'lunch ladies' leave the line Cafeteria workers retire after decades of service


When Phoebe Martin started working in the cafeteria at 5th District Elementary School in 1963, she would knead dough for fresh rolls, make hamburger patties and bake wonderful-smelling cinnamon buns.

The students at the Upperco school, many of whom lived on farms and didn't know about pizza, favored hot roast beef sandwiches and peanut butter fudge.

On Friday -- her last day at the Northwest Baltimore County school -- Martin nostalgically recalled the days before prepackaged pizzas and hamburgers were trucked to 5th District.

"Some things changed for the worse -- like the food," said Martin, who retired with her colleague of 24 years, Beverly Mays. "Some things changed for the better."

The first big change came in 1964 when the tiny kitchen was remodeled and a modern convection oven, walk-in refrigerator and dishwasher were added.

In 1980, plastic plates and utensils were adopted, and the cooking was centralized at Hereford High School.

The cafeteria staff was cut from three full-time workers and one part-time cashier to two part-time jobs, the ones that Martin and Mays held.

Martin and Mays appreciate some changes that the years have brought. In the early '60s, "lunch ladies" had to wear white dresses and hair nets.

Most recently, they sported brightly colored polo shirts, white pants and sun visors.

Martin, 67, attended 5th District. So did her husband, daughter and two grandchildren.

Mays, 55, didn't attend the school, but her husband and three children did. She started as a lunchroom monitor in 1972, the same year her aunt retired from the cafeteria.

"They're part of the fabric of this school," said Principal Susan Deise. "I can't imagine one without the other."

The two are are best friends who vacation together with their husbands, play rummy at each others' homes and go out to dinner together.

Each day, the women guide about 200 pre-kindergartners through fifth-graders through the lunch line with the efficiency of factory workers on an assembly line. Mays serves the food and hands the children the trays; Martin doles out snacks and works the cash register.

Martin figures she's served a million children in her career, and her love for children is evident in the two poems that hang over her desk in the kitchen. On her last day, she dropped Hershey's Kisses onto each child's tray.

"I may come in feeling depressed, but then the kids come through the line with something cheerful to say and smiles on their faces," Martin said.

The principal said that the two women insisted that their Dec. 16 retirement party be at the school instead of at a restaurant. Two former principals and a handful of retired teachers, as well as the current staff, attended.

The best parting gesture, the two said, was a memory book filled with photographs from the retirement party, poems written by teachers and precious messages from students.

Among those messages:

"I enjoyed the way you reminded us if we didn't pay for all of our lunch" "I only bought once, but I like the quick service" "I thank you for being our lunch ladies."

Pub Date: 12/23/96

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