Interviewee: Dianna Krebs
Interviewer: Jeffrey Boyce
Date: November 6, 2010

Description: Dianna Krebs has served as a child nutrition director in Mississippi for over fifteen years.

Jeffrey Boyce: I’m Jeffrey Boyce and it’s November 6, 2010. I’m here at the Beau Rivage Casino and Hotel with Dianna Krebs, who is here attending the Mississippi School Nutrition Association Annual Conference. Welcome Dianna and thanks for taking the time to talk with me today.

Dianna Krebs: You’re welcome. I was looking forward to it.

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

DK: Well, my father was in the army and so I was born in Missouri when he was in the army.

JB: What part?

DK: Fort Leonard Wood. I was born there. And when he graduated from college he was an engineer, and so we traveled around, my mom with four kids, we traveled around. He worked with International Paper Company, so he opened up plants. And then as soon as they would get opened he would have to leave. And so when I got to junior high Mother was like ‘Ok, this is enough. We need to stop.’ So he came down to Pascagoula and got a job offer to go into a firm with someone, so that’s where we ended up staying.

JB: So that’s where you went to junior high?

DK: I went to junior high and high school – graduated from Pascagoula.

JB: Were there lunch programs there then?

DK: They had just basically the one meal, and of course when I started there in junior high we were still kind of eating on campus. But Mother packed my lunch because she didn’t like what they served. And then when I got to high school the main thing that I would eat was the bread. Oh, they had the best bread – made their homemade rolls – and that was probably the most memorable thing of school lunch.

JB: Everyone talks about the homemade rolls.

DK: I know. They were awesome.

JB: That recipe should be out there for everyone. Tell me a little bit about your educational background. Where did you go to college?

DK: I went to Southern. I went to Ole Miss, but I graduated from Southern with a bachelor’s of Finance, and that’s where I started. I worked for a bank for a little while and then I got a job with the school district, and I kind of got in as a secretary and ended up working as a bookkeeper with my financial background. And ended up as the child nutrition bookkeeper, and just loved the whole program.

JB: What positions have you held then?

DK: I was bookkeeper. Then I moved from bookkeeper to coordinator, and I worked there for several years, and then director.

JB: What did you do as coordinator?

DK: Coordinator was like an assistant to the director, so I did most of the managing of the program, and the director at that time was great. He was great at going in and having all these programs, getting adults, getting kids. He was very unique in that he had all these wonderful ideas. So I kind of just managed it as he did his thing, and it just developed from there.

JB: And so now you’re director?

DK: Yes, I’ve been director for about fifteen years.

JB: What’s a typical day like for you?

DK: It’s kind of wild, and that’s good and bad, because it’s never the same every day, but a typical day is going in and making sure we have enough staffing, making sure we don’t have to fill-in somewhere, because we have to do that a lot in the office. But go from putting out fires to organizing, trying to make time. We get into the cafeterias every day at lunch, my assistant and I.

JB: Oh, so you’re in the cafeteria every day?

DK: Yes. If we’re not it’s because we’re behind on something, trying to get it in. But just about every day at lunch we go somewhere and we try to visit different cafeterias.

JB: How many schools do you have?

DK: Eighteen. So sometimes the ones that see us the most are the ones that have the most problems. When they tell you they haven’t seen you in a while it meals they’re doing really well.

JB: Was there anyone special, a mentor perhaps that sort of guided you into child nutrition, or after you got there was really instrumental in helping you learn the ropes?

DK: Getting in there – it just happened that there was a bookkeeping position open. At the time they were having financial problems, so it was kind of a challenge. Then I got into it and started working with that end of it. But I loved it. I loved working with the managers, because even with the bookkeeping end you dealt a lot with the managers and helping them with that part of it. That’s how I got started. And I’ve worked with several people, other directors, that have been wonderful, helped me out so much, but probably Charles Strong, who was my second director, was probably the best as far as just getting me really involved in the whole program, because he was just so energetic and loved the program so much. So he made me love it even more. He taught me a lot and kind of made me believe in myself as he was leaving – ‘You can do this, you’ve got it made’. He gave me the encouragement that I needed to go on and be director and manage the whole program.

JB: What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the profession over the years?

DK: So many people have been in before me, but I’ve been in the child nutrition profession about twenty years and there have been so many changes in the last twenty, and I don’t know if they experienced that much before that. Just going from the one meal to all the choices, all the going back in to the nutritional part, making sure everybody’s following the same menus. It’s been a tremendous amount of changes, but everything has been for the better.

JB: How much actual scratch cooking do you do today?

DK: We still do a lot of scratch cooking. Not as much as we used to, mainly because of time and labor, but we always have, out of our group of menus, probably three fourths is scratch cooking. We get a lot of commodities from the state that we use, so that helps a little bit to encourage us. To go into high schools and to notice, with all these choices out there – the hamburgers, the pizza – to see how many of the children will go to the hot lunch that you’ve made – to say, “Oh gosh, I haven’t had that – “. They get fast food all the time, so I think a lot of them miss that. There’s a good many kids that go to the pizza, etc. but there’s a lot that really appreciate the hot lunch. They have their favorites and it will be packed. And the managers get to where they know ‘Oh gosh, it’s lasagna day. We’re going to have to cook a lot of lasagna.’ But it’s kind of nice to have that, to know that you’re doing something a little special for them.

JB: Tell me about your experiences with Katrina.

DK: Oh goodness. Being down on the coast there are a lot of hurricanes – scares and hurricanes that we’ve had – and storms where power’s been out and everything, but nothing prepared us for this. Most of the time after a storm you’ve got a few days that you’re cleaning up, you’re getting everything back to normal. You’re trying to get the power back on everywhere and seeing what damages you have, and then within a month you’re moving on and you’re back to where you were. But as widespread as Katrina was you didn’t have the help. The power companies did the best they could, but they had just a massive amount to do. So, it was tough, it was really tough coming back to homes damaged to the point that you don’t have a place to live, to going to the schools to say, “Where do we start now?” And then you’ve got your staff that’s coming in looking at you saying, “What do we do?” And then you have to deal with all the people who can’t get there because of their family situations. So nothing could have prepared us for that.

JB: So, physically how much damage did you have, how many schools?

DK: We had eighteen and we lost two to where they could not be repaired. The rest of the schools had partial damage and could be used after several weeks of cleaning and getting things replaced. Our office was totally destroyed and we were placed in the high school and had to salvage what we could. Once the cleanup people came in we didn’t have the time to salvage as much as we otherwise might have been able to.

JB: What about you personally? What was your housing situation?

DK: We had about five feet of water in the house. But when we pulled up, after we could get back, from the front you thought everything was fine, until you went to the back and you saw that all the doors were gone and water was over everything.

JB: How long was it before you could get back after the storm?

DK: I was probably very lucky because I couldn’t handle it. And my husband, who had a business that was totally destroyed – he builds cabinets – he had people standing outside his shop that day and his shop was really bad – he had to get his shop up. He’s really good with his hands and he just took over. I went to school. I couldn’t do that, so I left and I went to school and I worked at the office and that was kind of my salvation. I don’t know that I could have handled it as much if I had to stay home. He had some of his guys from his shop that didn’t have any damage, because they lived further away, and they got it to where we could move into one room, but that was after about three months, that we had a room to live in.

JB: Where did you stay in the meantime?

DK: We did get a FEMA trailer. My daughter had a two story house at the time and her bottom floor was damaged. We stayed there. It was several people, her family and a friend of ours stayed there. We lived there until we got a trailer. Well, we got a camper first from the neighbor next door. His ex father-in-law had a camper, so we had the camper for a long time before we got the trailer. And then we got the trailer later and we stayed in there until we could – I just wanted to put a bed somewhere. I wanted a washer and a dryer and a bed, and then everything else was like ‘we’ll get there’. It took several months, but I was really lucky. There were several people that were out for a lot longer.

JB: What would you say has been your most significant contribution to the field?

DK: Well, I think my financial background helped a lot, because that’s part of the program. The district does not support child nutrition programs. They expect us to support ourselves and to stand alone. So that’s been probably my best. Because of my background I have been able to watch and try to plan – as much as you can. I also think that just a love for the program, and I want it to be the best that it can be. I don’t to just get by and say, “Ok, we’ve made enough money. We’re ok on balancing everything out and we’ll skimp here and we’ll skimp there.” I want to take that bit that we have and do the best that we can do, and I really think that I’ve tried to do that. I’ve tried to work with employees, and met a lot of good people.

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

DK: I think it’s wonderful. I have really, over the years – there are a lot of things trying your patience – but over the years there have been so many good people, other directors. There are not too many jobs that you can pick up the phone and call somebody that’s doing the same thing that you’re doing that will share whatever information they have. If you see a program and you ask, “How are you getting that? I can’t seem to get there” they’ll tell you. They’ll tell you all the pitfalls, don’t do this, and this is what ended up working. It’s just a great, great profession. And it’s very few that you can go through a year and you see what didn’t work and you make notes of that, and you turn around the next year and you do it differently and you can make your changes. You kind of get ‘do-overs’, is what I call them. Ok, we’re starting in August and we get a do-over. We made some mistakes back in here so we’re going to fix those mistakes and go on. I think it’s something that you really need to stick with. Moving around, hopping from this school district to this school district to this school district, I don’t think you would get the best. I think you do when you can sit there and fix the problems that you had the year before. It makes you feel good about yourself and good about the job and the program.

JB: Anything else you’d like to add?

DK: I really feel like it’s just a great profession and I’ve loved it, I really have.

JB: Thanks for sharing your time with me today.

DK: Sure. I appreciate everything that you are doing too.

JB: Thank you.