OTTUMWA— This week marks the last time Cindy Kelley will cook in the Evans kitchen and work the register during lunch. She is retiring on Friday after working over 31 years in the Evans Middle School kitchen .
“All these kids, I love them,” Kelley said. “I’m close to a lot of them.” And of course, she’ll also miss her co-workers and the Evans staff. But when reflecting about her retirement, her attention was primarily on the students.
Kelley started her career in 1985 working part-time. The kitchen was in the basement and featured two lines, one with hamburgers, hotdogs and French fries every day. Now she works full-time in a recently-constructed kitchen and servery. Health initiatives no longer allow fried foods, but the three lines now include a cold line with sandwiches, wraps, salads, and fresh fruit. The Evans kitchen prepares breakfast and lunch for approximately 1,000 people daily. Running the register is “the best part of my day.”
During the three years students attend Evans, she gets to know a lot of them. She calls students by name and in those brief moments as they go through the lunch line, she connects with them. Some call her by name, some refer to her as Grandma. “I get hugs all the time,” she said with a huge smile.
According to Principal Missy Carson-Roark, Kelley refers to the students as “her kids,” is always warm, caring, and provides a fun-loving presence in the lunchroom.
“I love the kids,” she said. It will be the hardest part of leaving the kitchen.
She is ready for the next phase of her life. In her early sixties, she enjoys bingo, cooking and sewing. “I’d like to do the things I haven’t had time to do.”