Interviewee: Darlene French

Interviewer: Jeffrey Boyce

Date: December 13, 2012

Location: Boothbay Harbor, Maine

Description: Darlene French worked as a school food service director in Maine.

Jeffrey Boyce: I’m Jeffrey Boyce and it is December 13, 2012, and I am in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, with Mrs. Darlene French. Welcome Darlene and thanks for taking the time to talk with me today.

Darlene French: Well thank you for coming here.

JB: Happy to do it. It’s a beautiful state.

DF: It is a beautiful state. It’s a little cool but –

JB: But cool and clear, that’s nice.

DF: That’s right.

JB: Could we begin today by you telling me a little bit about yourself, where you were born and where you grew up?

DF: I was born in Damariscotta, Maine, at Miles Memorial Hospital, which is another town about twenty minutes away, and that’s where I lived there until I was – actually I come from South Bristol, which is another little island town, and that’s were Ramona from Southport was born too, in South Bristol. My mother and her were best friends for years, still were until my mother passed away. And then I moved to Nobleboro and I lived there for a little while. And then I moved to Florida for five years. And then my father was from Boothbay Harbor, Maine, so we came back to Maine when I was twelve and been here ever since.

JB: So, you went to elementary school, would that have been here or in Florida first?

DF: I went first to elementary school in Nobleboro, Maine, which is another little town outside of Damariscotta. Then I went to Florida for five years in elementary school in Fort Lauderdale. And then I came back here when I was in seventh grade and continued my education in Boothbay Harbor.

JB: From first grade then was there a feeding program, a breakfast or lunch when you started?

DF: Lunch program. Not a breakfast program, but a lunch program.

JB: Did you participate?

DF: I certainly did.

JB: What were some of your favorite menu items?

DF: Well, I have to tell you that I loved – they called it SOS, but it was mashed potato – they made a white cream sauce and put tomato soup in it and hamburger and had it over mashed potato. It was really, really good. It was very tasty. And another one that I really liked was bubble and squeak.

JB: And what is that?

DF: Well, it’s a recipe with hamburger and potatoes and Veg-all vegetables, and they sautéed everything, cooked the potatoes, and then they baked the casserole and it was really good. In fact it’s one of our favorite. My maintenance guy that works for me here, went to school with me, and I have to make him bubble and squeak every once in a while because he had it in school too.

JB: Is it not still on the menu?

DF: No. We had a – a few years ago I decided I wanted to do a ‘blast from the past’ for a whole week in April, and I did bubble and squeak, I did the SOS, the cream beef, and tuna/noodle casserole, because kids don’t care for that, and meatloaf, because kids really don’t have meatloaf at home – there was a whole week of ‘blast from the past’, anyway the kids didn’t, no, they didn’t like it.

JB: Oh, it didn’t go over well?

DF: No, we never did it again.

JB: It’s a shame. It sounds wonderful to me. Well, so then you moved to Florida. I’m assuming there was a lunch program there?

DF: There was a lunch program there.

JB: Was it different than Maine?

DF: Yes. I went to a big school in Fort Lauderdale and I’m sure there was a reimbursable lunch, but as being a kid I can remember if you wanted to buy an ice cream you could buy it. And of course when I came to Maine we had nothing like that. It was a-la-carte items there in Florida. You got your lunch but you had to buy all these other things separate if you wanted it. And I was surprised. I was young, but that’s how the lunch program was there.

JB: Ours in Mississippi was similar. You could buy a 5-cent ice cream with the little wooden flat spoon.

DF: Right. That’s what they could get. When I came back to Boothbay and went to school you got what the lunch program was and there was no a-la-carte.

JB: Nothing extra?

DF: Nothing extra and you didn’t get any choices either. You got it on the tray, you ate it or you went hungry and threw it away.

JB: So you came back here and finished high school in Maine?

DF: I actually didn’t finish high school. I got married, had a child at sixteen, which was OK, but I did not graduate from school. I got married. My husband was seventeen, I was sixteen, and my parents let us get married. They weren’t very happy, but we had to prove to them that we were going to make it. And then I had another child when I was eighteen. And at eighteen I went back and got my GED. And I always loved to cook. I’d been cooking since I was ten years old. I had to take care of three brothers while my mother worked. And so I would come home from school and I would have to cook. And my mother would let me. She was a fantastic cook. She was a beautiful baker, she could cook. And I always said I was going to be better than she was. And I did perfect it too. I was a better cook than she was, better baker. And so I just learned to cook. She’d let me. If I messed it up she’d say, “Start over until you get it right.” And so I would do it until I got it right.

JB: Practice makes perfect.

DF: Practice makes perfect.

JB: So how did you become involved in the child nutrition profession?

DF: Well, I actually worked in restaurants. I loved to cook, so in the summertime I was a short order cook for North Star Restaurant, and for a restaurant downtown called Blue Ship. They’d stand out on the road and be four hundred people go through there for breakfast and I would be short order cook. And I worked for the Rotary Club every Thursday night. I went in with my friend and we’d feed 100 Rotarians. We’d cook a meal from scratch and we’d feed them, clean it up. And I did Lions Club every week, and I did that for fifteen years. So then this new school was going to be built and I thought, “God, I really love to cook. I’d like to apply.” So I applied for the job. I was twenty-five years old. And it was funny, because the lady that was going to be my boss actually was the cook when I went through school. And I’m thinking, “Oh, this is gonna be great. They’re not going to believe in me. They’re only going to see me as a kid.” So I decided well, I’m going to apply anyway. So I applied, and I didn’t get hired right then, I got hired as a sub. Well, one of the Rotarians was a school board member. And I said to him that I had applied, but I’m only going to be a sub. And he goes, “Why?” And I said, “Well, I guess because they hired other people.” He said, “But you have experience.” And I said, “I know. I cook for a hundred people every day.” He said, “You can do it Darlene. You do a good job.” So he went to her and he said, “If there becomes, because they weren’t sure if they were going to hire four people or five people for the job, because they didn’t know if they needed that many people – ”

JB: And this position was?

DF: Here at the school, the brand new school as a cook, and so he said, “If there’s going to be another person hired Darlene is going to be hired,” he said, “because I know what she can do, and I know that she can do a good job here, and I believe in her.” So I was hired the very first day of school full-time, very first day.

JB: So you started out as a cook?

DF: I started out as a cook. Within three years I was baking, and I was manager. And then I was manager for seven years and then I went on to be a director, because I didn’t stop. I went to every training there was. I wanted to learn. I wanted to do the best that I could do and just went to every meeting I could and absorbed everything I could and came back and tried to change, and I went with the guidelines. I just really loved what I was doing.

JB: And who sponsored these trainings?

DF: The State Department of Education – every training that I could go to – and then I got involved in SNA, which is Maine School Nutrition Association, probably twenty-one years ago. That’s when I really became a good director, because I asked questions. I went and I visited other schools. I worked with other directors. I wanted to be a better director.

JB: And Maine has a strong state association?

DF: Very strong association -lot of good friends.

JB: Have there been any mentors along the way, people who sort of helped guide you during these trainings or your working life?

DF: My superintendent. I had a superintendent, Mark Keegan, that came to me when he became superintendent. I was director, and he put a thing in front of me and wanted me to go to a USDA produce academy. And it was all the way down in Framingham, Massachusetts. And I thought, “Oh, I’ve never gone out and done anything like that,” and I was so excited about it, but I thought, “I’ve got to drive all the way down to Framingham. I’ve never done that before.” It ended up I went with some other people, but I didn’t know the people. I got on the phone and I called them and asked them if they had room to take me, and they did. So I got to be friends with them, and that’s how I really became involved in the association. It was my superintendent that kept saying, “You can do this. You can do that.” And I was allowed to do it. I didn’t think I was going to be allowed money to do these things, and he pushed me to go do everything I could do, and he supported me. He put me in for the Award of Excellence as a director and I got nominated through our association and won that award. So he just believed in me. And then my principal at that time at this school became superintendent, and I’ve been with her for the last fifteen, sixteen years and she’s just very supportive of everything that I do.

JB: What is her name?

DF: Eileen King – and she supports us in everything we do here.

JB: Support makes all the difference.

DF: It does.

JB: So you started out as a cook. Then you became a manager, and then director. Tell me about a typical day, if there is such a thing, in each of those positions.

DF: Well, when I was a cook somebody else was in charge, and I just always wanted to help any way that I could. We’d come in and we’d do our thing in the morning. We laughed a lot here. I mean we had the most fun that anybody could ever have in this school. I mean I’ve even been in one of the bowls, I’ve been in one of the sinks out there. Once the day was over we’d be tired. I had some older ladies, but they were fun. And we all were friends and we just laughed a lot here. When I became manager I just managed the kitchen. I had I lady that had to get done because she had cancer, one of the older ladies. She worked for me for sixteen years after I became director. And then I had another lady that was here for thirty-seven years, and she worked for me all the time I was a director, probably twenty years, and had to get done because she had cancer, but she was also eighty-five years old. And then I had two other ladies, one that worked for me the same time I started, Nicky, and her and I are best friends to this day, she worked for me for twenty-nine years before she retired. And then I had Peggy, who worked for me twenty-six years and retired. So I had ladies that retired within three or four years here, so I had new crew. That’s why I’ve got this young crew now.

JB: Sounds like people, once they go into child nutrition in Maine, they stay for a while.

DF: They stay. Well, it’s the hours you know. They come in at six or seven and go home by one-thirty. You have all the holidays off the same as your kids. The ladies that I worked with all had school age kids when they started. And so it was perfect for me. I had two kids. I could go to their basketball games. I could be involved in the children and do the things that they needed to do. I could be home with them and not have to have a babysitter. That was one of the reasons why I really got in school lunch was the hours.

JB: Plus it sounds like you really enjoyed it too.

DF: I have been here thirty-six years and I have never, ever dreaded getting up and going to work. Ever.

JB: Very few people can say that.

DF: I mean I get tired, and I go in my office sometimes and go [gasps and covers her eyes], because you have issues with staff. The job is nothing. Personnel can sometimes be mindboggling to make this one happy and that one happy, but on the whole, no.

JB: Is there anything unique about Maine in regard to child nutrition programs?

DF: Our Department of Education – we have some really, really nice people that actually do things for you in our Department of Education; Walter Beasley and Gail and David Hartley, and the lady that’s been in the office – those ladies that are in the office been there forever that do paperwork, they’re there for you. They always are there. They never belittle you. They’re there to help you. When they come in to do a review they want to help you. I remember a lady, one of those state ladies, she came in and had her uniform top on and she got her a knot in her hairnet on, and I’m going [gasps], and when she got through she told us we did good, and then when the exit conference came we didn’t do anything right. These guys tell you outright. If you’re doing something wrong they’ll sit down and tell you why you’re doing it wrong or whatever. We have a really good relationship in the state of Maine with our Department of Education.

JB: So they’re there to help, not to penalize.

DF: Right, right, and they’re a lot of fun.

JB: So what’s a typical day like for you now? Walk me through your day.

DF: Ok. I come in, I’m here at six o’clock every morning. If someone isn’t in I put on my – we all wear uniforms like professional chef coats now. We want to be professional. And I said, “The only way you’re going to look professional is to wear professional things.” So two years ago we went to that. So I might put on a chef’s jacket and out in the kitchen I go. I’ve had to sub the last two weeks. Every day I’ve been out there. I made shepherd’s pie for two hundred people yesterday because one of my girls was sick. So rather than hire a sub I go out there for a few hours and help them out. That saves me money and gets me out in the kitchen. I get to see what’s going on. And then I go down to my high school at eight o’clock in the morning once I get everything going here. I’ll go down and visit with them, make sure they’re ok. And then I’ll come back and – telephone rings all day long. And then I work until like two or three o’clock in the afternoon. Yesterday I went to a meeting. I had to go to a Let’s Go meeting at two-thirty and got home at four-thirty last night, so I put in a ten and a half hour day yesterday, but that’s me.

JB: So, the high school, which is next door, has a separate staff and a separate kitchen?

DF: Yes. They have three girls down there, and they serve breakfast all morning. They go from seven-thirty to ten-thirty and they shut off breakfast, and then they start lunch. Because those students are hungry, and if they smell food up there he found they wouldn’t learn, so he might as well just send them down with a note to get something to eat and then go back to the classroom. And that’s worked out really well. We’re feeding probably in that school; she’s feeding almost sixty percent of breakfast down there, the reimbursable.

JB: And what’s the lunch participation?

DF: About forty-seven, almost forty-eight percent for lunch.

JB: And what about here at the elementary school?

DF: This elementary school is about sixty-two percent.

JB: For breakfast?

DF: No. We’re probably only about fifty percent for breakfast.

JB: And sixty-two for lunch?

DF: Yes. We have some teachers that are kind of hard to deal with for breakfast. We have to do it in the classroom. We do a bag breakfast in the classroom every single day. We found that we were only getting twenty-five kids coming into the cafeteria for breakfast, and I was concerned about it, because kids were coming in with headaches, they were hungry. The nurse was coming up and getting crackers and oranges and apples and saying, “We’ve got these kids.” So I said, “Let us do a pilot program for six weeks and let’s put it in the classroom and see if we pick up participation and see if it stops.” Well, we ended up feeding at first like two hundred kids a day out of the four hundred. Now it’s like one hundred and seventy-five or so. But they haven’t taken it away. It’s been like six years, so it worked.

JB: Nutrition is important for education.

DF: Very. But sometimes it’s hard to get everybody on the same wagon with us. I understand that.

JB: Have you found any ways to get them on the same wagon?

DF: Some can be very, very difficult, so we hang the little bag outside the doors. We don’t interrupt the classroom, and then go on our way. Hopefully they eat.

JB: My next question was ‘What are some of the biggest challenges you face?’ It sounds like cooperation is one of them.

DF: Cooperation with teachers is some of the hardest. When I went to do the Healthier US Challenge I thought, “Now how am I going to find out what the teachers do for nutrition in the classroom and whether I am to find out about any kind of activity they do in the classroom.” So I found some paper that had little smiley faces on it and I wrote up this nice letter and told them what I was going to be doing. And then I gave them a copy of the nutrition part of it and the activity part of it and just asked them to please help me, that I really wanted to do this. I wanted to bring our school forward with the Healthier US Challenge, and that I was looking for their cooperation. Well, I put it out on email at first and I didn’t get no – nothin’. So I decided to get that letter and print it and leave it in their boxes. Sure enough I had quite a few to give me back. But I still had a couple of those teachers that I had problems with – would not give any information. But I got enough. I only had to have half, so I got enough information to get what I needed to do to show we had enough PE and enough nutrition to go forward with the Healthier US Challenge.

JB: And I understand you were successful.

DF: Yes. Very successful. But once they saw what I was doing, and they saw the big award they were all happy about it.

JB: Sometimes it just takes some people a little while to come around.

DF: Right. And now I think I’ve gained some ground with some of those teachers. Once they see what you really are doing and that you are trying to do it for the students; and then we put the banner out in the gym so everybody sees it. It’s up there. We’re a Healthier US Challenge school. We’re only bronze. I didn’t do the silver because I wasn’t sure about the production records. But now I have a girl doing the production records so we probably could be silver now. She’s very good at it.

JB: Maybe it’s something to work for in the future.

DF: We have to do it again in three years so we’ll be doing it again.

JB: Positive public PR never hurts.

DF: Right. I think by doing this gingerbread house they’re seeing a different side of what we do here. We brought every child in to see this gingerbread house and we’re putting it into the contest. They’ve watched it start and every day they’ll come in at lunchtime, especially the older kids, and they’ll see the progress from the day before.

JB: So you’re building this gingerbread house to enter into what now?

DF: The gingerbread extravaganza that they have every year at Christmastime.

JB: For the town of Boothbay Harbor?

DF: For the town of Boothbay Harbor, yes. And you go in and what you do is there’s a Dough Ball Friday night and there’s music and dancing and people vote on all the gingerbread houses. They’re in different categories. They have a People’s Award. They have an Extravaganza Award. I don’t even know what we win. I just know we did this.

JB: More good PR. What are some of the other challenges you’ve faced over your career?

DF: I think the biggest challenge is money here. I would like to see them feel that the school lunch is so important that they would say, “Let’s have universal breakfast here. We’ll pay for it.” instead of me always worrying about my budget. I’m constantly worrying about me budget because I only get so much. I get like eighty thousand dollars. That’s all the town gives me. But I have no control. They’re union so I have to pay for their Blue Cross and Blue Shield in the summertime and I have nobody in school and I’m not making any money, so I’m already eight thousand dollars in the hole because I had to pay for that. And then they allow them to get their paycheck year round, so all that labor has to go onto my September claim form, all summer, so that puts my food cost way up for a few months. And then when Walter says, “Oh, I looked at someone’s food cost the other day and it was like nine dollars.” I say, “That would be me because I had to pay all this labor all summer.” He goes, “Really.” And I told him what was going on. He said, “That will answer that that question.” It does come down, but it’s so shocking at the beginning of the school year. Everybody gets money towards their raises or their Blue Cross and Blue Shield when it goes up, but having a union the last few years and making up pay that insurance in the summertime, go from ten months to twelve months and no money to pay for it. I’ve had that challenge, but they have to pay my bills at the end of the year if I don’t meet my budget. They can’t take it out of the school lunch money so they have to pay the unpaid bills. So if I go into a hole they have to pay them.

JB: What changes have you seen in child nutrition over the years?

DF: [Laughter] A ton. When I first came here it was Type A meal lunch. You had commodity foods stacked to the ceiling. You got plenty of commodity food.

JB: What kind of commodity food?

DF: Oh my God – peaches, pears, meats, stew beef. I can remember getting stew beef. We used to like to get canned pork and we’d make a pork and gravy over rice. Oh my God that was so good. Cheese, prunes, shortening, all of the fruits and vegetables you could ever want.

JB: Flour?

DF: Flour, yes we got flour, shortening, corn meal, beans. We used to bake our own beans, just parboil them and bake them. And I’d like to see that again instead of buying canned beans. We made everything from scratch here.

JB: From scratch to – and now it’s?

DF: Well, we still do all of our own baking. We have to buy hamburger and hotdog rolls. We have a yeast roll; we make it. Today we didn’t because I know we had company coming so we didn’t. I’d have to do the rolls. But today it’s homemade macaroni and cheese. Yesterday was homemade shepherd’s pie. We make everything. We don’t buy too much. I do buy processed meat. You can’t help it. You have to do a chicken patty once in a while.

JB: But you really never left scratch cooking then?

DF: No, never have here. That was one way of keeping my labor was tell them, “We’ll keep scratch cooking in always. I need the labor.” So we make everything that we can; all our homemade spaghetti sauce. We don’t buy it. We buy the dipping sauce – the spaghetti sauce we have it the dipping sauce for the pazzo bread.

JB: What kind of bread?

DF: We make pazzo bread. It’s just cheesy bread. And we make that and the kids have to have spaghetti sauce for that. And we might have to have spaghetti sauce when we do stuffed shells, but as far as homemade sauce we make it with tomatoes. We get the tomatoes from the government, or I buy canned tomatoes and we make it. We have all of our recipes out there. Corn chowder, they’re having homemade corn chowder next week.

JB: Send me some down south.

DF: Ok.

JB: What other changes?

DF: Well, the change went to Offer vs. Serve, which actually saved money, because I can remember being on the dishwasher, and making meatloaf one time . And we decided to take #10 cans, and we must have had fifteen #10 cans filled with meatloaf the kids didn’t eat. So now it’s kind of nice, because they don’t have to take that meatloaf if they don’t want to. They can have to vegetables or – we just saw a lot of food get thrown away when it was Type A meal. Now we save money this way, even though fruits and vegetables, we’re giving them a few more and they’re throwing them away. Food costs have gone up a little bit.

JB: Have you seen the acceptance increasing at all with fruits and vegetables?

DF: Yes. I really do think so. I think that my high school kids, the ones that did not want to take that apple or that vegetable in order to count that meal, but when they found out they were going to get charged three dollars if they didn’t, they decided yea, I can have that orange later or that apple later. And we’ve asked them, “What would you like to have? What kind of vegetables do you want?” They really like the green beans and they like the peas. They love anything I can roast. They love roasted zucchini sticks. They love roast squash. And that’s what we do here. We take the squash and we cut it up and we roast it. So we roast a lot of vegetables.

JB: Any olive oil or anything?

DF: A little bit of olive oil, and salt and pepper, and roast it in the oven; sweet potato fries, we’re just doing roasted potatoes, red potatoes, we just had them the other day, We’re just trying to roast everything because the kids seem to like that better.

JB: What about root vegetables, carrots or beets?

DF: Yes. Actually I made beef stew the other day, and I buy my root vegetables from northern Maine, which is called Northern Girl, and it’s all been cubed for me. It comes all frozen. All I have to do is thaw it out and put it into the beef stew or we can put it in the oven and roast it.

JB: Excellent.

DF: So we buy it in different sizes. And we had beef stew on Monday, homemade beef stew. We’re trying to go back to the older meals. Kids like beef stew. They like corn chowder. They like spaghetti. They like macaroni and cheese. They like shepherd’s pie. I don’t do breaded chicken nuggets. I do chicken bites or teriyaki chicken, something like that, like a rice bowl. We make our own rice with carrots, peas, and corn, rather than buy it. We’ve got the brown rice from the government, so why not make our own pilaf? And then we put the teriyaki chicken on top of it.

JB: So no breading?

DF: No breading.

JB: Excellent.

DF: And we do grilled chicken instead of breaded chicken. We do do a hotdog, but we put it with beans. They love beans and hotdogs.

JB: So it’s not on a bun? It’s just slices with beans?

DF: Yes.

JB: Takes me back to my childhood.

DF: Coleslaw. We’re going back; rolls.

JB: What you say has been your most significant contribution so far to the field of child nutrition?

DF: Well, I think learning to be confident in myself; because I didn’t have a lot of confidence, because that’s just the way I was brought up. My father was very strict and we never did anything right, and that type of thing, so I didn’t have much self-esteem. This job has given me that self-esteem, knowing that I can prove to myself that I can do it. There isn’t anything out there that if you put your mind to that you can’t do. I’m amazed at myself at how I can run this operation and think, “Oh, wow.” When they first asked me I turned it down. They saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. And I didn’t take that job that first time.
JB: This was the school board?

DF: The school board came to me and asked me to take it, and I didn’t take if for two years later, because I didn’t feel that I could do the claim form. I was really scared about it. But once the new person came in she didn’t stick with what she was supposed to do and I ended up doing her job for six months, because she ended up in the legislature. And the kitchen was a disaster, and I had to straighten it all out in six months, and then she would come back. So they told her they weren’t going to renew her contract. So they offered me the job then, again, and I took it. I said, “I might as well. I’ve been doing it.” But I didn’t have that self-esteem. So this job has really brought me forward. I wouldn’t be sitting here doing an interview with you. I’d be too shy. I couldn’t do that. I’d be a wreck. And now – I am who I am, and we really work hard here.

JB: I understand you’ve also been very active in the Maine School Nutrition Association.

DF: Very. I was treasurer for them for four years. I was legislative chair for ten years, for national and state. So I did both. I was vice-president and then president, so yes.

JB: Of the state association?

DF: Of the state association. I didn’t go on to national because I didn’t feel like I wanted to travel anymore. If I were a little younger I probably would. If something happened to my husband I probably would jump right on to it, because I want to be busy, I want to do something, but I’ve got grandkids and I enjoy being with them.

JB: You’ve got to have a personal life too.

DF: You’ve got to have a personal life too. It can’t be all about work. I eat and sleep this place.

JB: What advice would you give someone who was considering child nutrition as a profession today?

DF: I would say, “Give it a try.” I couldn’t ask for a better job. We’ve had some high school kids come in and mentor them up here. They’ve worked. And they’ve gone to school to be dietary managers or whatever. But I say to them, “Don’t you ever think about getting into school lunch? It’s one of the best jobs in the world.” And I cannot see these kids going that way. They have a perception of school lunch like it’s not good. And I’m thinking, “It’s the best job that you could ever have.” My daughter – I didn’t think my daughter would ever want to come here and work. When she said, “Mom, I’d like to put in and sub here and put my name on the list and get involved.” I said, “You DO?!” Because I worked here and my daughter was like ‘I don’t want to work there; my mother’s up there’. And now she says it’s one of the best jobs she ever had. It’s a fun job. You get to interact with those children every single day. You can go up there, they give you a hug. They want to see you. And we’re very fortunate here because they’re allowed to come in and see us and hug us. We’re a very friendly school. So we’ve had that connection. My advice is ‘What better place could you work, have a profession?’

JB: Any memorable stories of special children or something like that over the years?

DF: We’ve always helped Special Ed. And we’ve had the kids come in and roll silverware, serve on the line, put the mild on. Those kids see you today and they’ll still come up and give you a big hug. “I remember when I worked in the kitchen with you!” So they remember that. And I think my biggest thing is when I go to a basketball game and the kids of the kids that I had when I was in here and they’ll go to me and say, “Oh, do you still make those wonderful yeast rolls? I love those yeast rolls. They’re the best lunches with school.” Or you see someone of Facebook – because one of the girls in Edgecombe will take a picture of her meal and say, “This is what I served the kids today.” And one of the kids will come on, “Oh I love school lunch! I can remember school lunch.” Or you go to the supermarket and they say, “Mom, there’s the lunch lady.”

JB: And they have good memories.

DF: And they have good memories, yes.

JB: And so the manager at Edgecombe Facebooks her meals?

DF: Yes.

JB: What a great idea.

DF: She’ll put it out there and say, “This is what we did.” We had baked fish one day. We bought Maine haddock and we had baked fish and she put it right out there on Facebook. “We’ve got Maine haddock. We’ve having fish today.” She does that.

JB: Do you have more seafood being on the coast here?

DF: It’s expensive. We have more, but it’s very expensive. I went and bought two hundred pounds of shrimp and I sat here in the school with my two brothers and we picked two hundred pounds. We got a hundred pounds of shrimp out of it, just so I could do shrimp scampi for the kids for one meal. I mean I got it for a good deal. I paid a hundred bucks for it. It was a dollar a pound. And we like to pick shrimp so we picked it. Last year I couldn’t get any because they didn’t have enough and this year they’re going to cut back again. And it’s too bad because we really wanted to do quite a bit of shrimp to put in the freezer. So we’re not going to be able to do that this year. It’ll be so expensive we won’t be able to afford it.

JB: Here I was thinking you just had tons of it here.

DF: No. They’re going to cut us back on Maine shrimp. They’re only going to allow them to do shrimp like seventy-five percent now or forty percent, I don’t know. They’re going to cut it back.

JB: What, the amount they can harvest?

DF: Yea, harvest and how many days, because they say they’re depleting it. They need to have it build up again. And of course our fishing industry is really bad. We had a lot of lobsters. I fed Japanese kids this summer for a week. I cooked it here, took it down to a motel – they went to school, had their lunch at school, and then supper was down to the motel. And I had to cook it here and take it down there. And I gave them everything I could from Maine seafood. I gave them lobster stew, lobster rolls, crabmeat rolls, baked haddock with crabmeat stuffing. I mean I did it all for them so they could have a little of everything. And those kids – they wanted to take me back with them.

JB: They were a special visiting class?

DF: They were here on a tour from Japan, where they went to school in Boston for two weeks, and then they came to Dover-Foxcroft for a week, and then they came to Boothbay for a week. It was like a tuition type thing and they learned English while they were here.

JB: What a great experience.

DF: And we have ten foreign exchange students from China here for the year. And we have them houses; we actually turned away people because now we’re looking at picking up enrollment by bringing in other countries. Other countries want to come here – pay big tuition to come here – which helps pay for schools. So we’re looking to maybe having to build our own dorms. And they eat our food like crazy. They get ten dollars a day to spend and they’re spending it down at the high school. They are eating. They are big eaters.

JB: And it’s a great experience for the local kids to see other cultures.

DF: And our principal who came here from Washington County, which is Down East, he had foreign exchange students down there and that’s how we got into this. He’s a young principal so he’d like to see more.

JB: Innovative?

DF: Yes.

JB: Sometimes new blood’s a good thing.

DF: It is, and it’s bringing in – I mean our school enrollment – when I first started here this school had six hundred students. Now we are down four hundred, so our enrollment’s dropping, and I have to think about that when people retire; don’t hire back as many hours. Like I said, I save money by going out in the kitchen and sub just to save money so that I don’t have to bring in a sub for the day.

JB: I think you enjoy getting out in the kitchen and doing that.

DF: I do. I love to cook.

JB: Anything else you’d like to add today?

DF: Like I said, I am just very fortunate to be able to see that people care about me, like my superintendent and put me in for the Award of Excellence, and I was glad to be president. It took twenty years for them to get me to do it, and I did it, and I’m glad I did. But that’s just me. I just never had a lot of self-esteem, and now I’ve done better.

JB: Well, I think you found something you love.

DF: Yeah. I always have a smile on my face. I’ve gotta come to work.

JB: Well thanks for taking the time to talk with me today.

DF: Thank you.