For 39 Years She Served Up Lunches, Raised Smiles


Mt. Airy Elementary Became Her 2nd Home

October 06, 1991|By Jane Lippy | Jane Lippy,Contributing writer

MOUNT AIRY — The thick, loose-leaf scrapbook titled "My School Lunch Life" holds years of memories and accomplishments for Grace Harrison.

Between its covers are neatly typed pages, newspaper clippings and colorful photographs, said Harrison, who worked at Mount Airy Elementary Schoolfor more than 39 years.

"It was my second home and second family," said Harrison, who retired from her job as cafeteria manager in February.

The 66-year-old Harrison managed the cafeteria for the previous 30 years, overseeing planning, preparing and serving of pupils' lunches.

She was raised in Mount Airy, where she in turn raised her two daughters. Harrison acquired an interest in foods while attending what was then called Mount Airy School, which had 11 grades and was the only school in town.

"Before the school-lunch program began in 1946, the girls who took home economics made the sandwiches, heated the soup and got out the milk and ice cream," she said.

Harrison, who is a great-grandmother, added, "When my youngest daughter started school, I wanted a job that would coincide with the (school hours). I never wanted them tobe home alone."

Pauline Buchman, the cafeteria manager at the time, needed a part-time helper. Harrison began in 1951, working three days a week for $3 a day.

"I'm sure I made the right decision because I've loved every bit of it," Harrison said of working in the county school system. "My job became a very important part of my life."

Harrison was named assistant manager in 1959 and manager in 1961.

Over the years, Harrison saw the school's lunch program undergo vasttransformation. She also added stitches of her own.

She recalls when a half-pint of milk cost 3 cents and lunches were 25 cents. Dishes were washed on an antiquated contraption that was operated by hand.

"I can remember spending Christmas holidays making out payroll --paid in cash -- and figuring state and federal taxes, social security, and preparing W-2 forms," she said.

Salaries for workers were determined in each school by the principal and cafeteria manager. Eachschool manager prepared the menu and oversaw purchasing.

Money from pupils was collected in a cigar box and, later,

in a cash box. Workers had virtually no fringe benefits and only three sick days a year.

Modern technology brought automatic dishwashers and computerized cash registers. The county school system's central office in Westminster now handles salaries and purchasing.

Cafeterias serve fish, pizza, chicken nuggets and other "fast food," along with fruits andvegetables. Labor negotiations have brought more fringe benefits forcafeteria employees.

Harrison spent the summers of 1970 and 1971 studying at the University of Maryland College Park, to become a certified teacher. She accepted the responsibility of shoring up the foodservices program at the Vocational-Technical Center in Westminster.

After teaching there for a year, she returned to Mount Airy, fashioning holiday treats and using her own recipes for sticky buns, breads and rolls.

Harrison was always ready for a challenge. She trained managers, including her successor, and demonstrated ways to use foods to state food service workers at Mount Wilson and Springfield hospitals and the University of Maryland.

The 150-member Carroll County Food Services Association awarded Harrison the Silver Success awardin 1988.

One tricky situation arose in 1985, when a two-year renovation project virtually closed Mount Airy Elementary. Portables wereset up for the displaced pupils.

Working from the Mount Airy Middle cafeteria, and with the help of parent volunteers to transport thelunches, Harrison arranged for both schools to be served from the same kitchen.

"We packed hot food in foil containers with covers andcold food in plastic containers with covers. Milk was packed in insulated carriers. At the same time, we prepared 50 to 100 meals every day for senior citizens at Calvary Church," she said. "It was a challenge and rewarding."

Harrison moved to Frederick several months ago.

"I have friends here and have always shopped in Frederick, so itseemed the logical thing to do."

She's close to her former co-workers at the two schools. Now that summer is here, they will have timeto get together and "do lunch."

Harrison no longer has to get up at 5 a.m., but she still enjoys baking as much as ever for her daughters, Joyce Clements of Frederick, and Carole Bowlus of Bowie, Prince George's County, and for her four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

She stays busy with needlework and bus trips. She took a Caribbean cruise last year and enjoyed it so much she's thinking of taking another.

As she closes her scrapbook, Harrison basks in the satisfaction of a job well done. The pages trigger many pleasant memories, such as the little boy who came upon a poster that read, "What is school lunch?"

"It's good -- that's what it is!" the boy exclaimed.

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