Interviewee: Earnestine Camp
Interviewer: Meredith Johnston
Date: February 27, 2004
Location: University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Description: Earnestine Camp has been actively involved with school food service programs for over sixty years since she began teaching Home Economics at Yellville-Summit High School in Yellville, Arkansas, in 1942. In addition to teaching, she directed the school lunch program there from 1943 to 1951. She was an Area Supervisor in the School Food Service Section of the Arkansas Department of Education from 1953 – 1987. She served as Southwest Regional Director for the American School Food Service Association. Ms. Camp coordinated membership for the Arkansas School Food Service Association from 1986 – 1999. Since 1999 she has been active with the Association’s Foundation Program. The Arkansas School Food Service Association established the Earnestine Camp Manager’s Award and Ms. Camp has also been named a life member of both the American School Food Service Association and the Arkansas School Food Service Association. Sadly, Ms. Camp passed away on December 6, 2012. Her obituary may be found here.
Meredith Johnston: Hi. My name is Meredith Johnston and I’m here at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. It is February 27, 2004 and I’m here with Ms. Earnestine Camp. Ms. Camp, thank you for being with me today. Can you tell me a little about yourself, where you are from, where you grew up?
Earnestine Camp: Thank you Meredith, I’d be glad to do that. I grew up in Grant County, Arkansas, which is south of Little Rock about thirty-six miles. I grew up on a farm with my family – mother and father, and brother, and sister. We grew up during the twenties and the thirties, so it was a difficult time as far as – we were never hungry, but we always had a garden and we raised cotton and corn and things like that. We didn’t have many activities because we didn’t have transportation. We went to church; when we went to church we went in a wagon, but since it was about three miles away from where we lived we didn’t go there often. But then there was a church about a mile away that we could walk to, so we would go over there, so that was one of our main activities. Another one was that we belonged to the 4-H Club, which was sponsored by the Cooperative Extension Service, and Ms. Nance, the home demonstration agent, and she became my role model. I went to a two-room school for my first six years, and then our school consolidated with the Sheridan Public School, and that’s where I finished high school in 1938.
MJ: Did you go on to college then? How did you know that you wanted to be a Home Ec teacher?
EC: Well, Ms. Nance was, as I say, my role model and I wanted to be just like her so, even though it was very hard times, my family managed to help me to get to Fayetteville at the University of Arkansas, and I trained to be a home demonstration agent. When I graduated in 1942 there were just no jobs available for Home Economics teachers, so they had sent out resumes for me and two weeks before school started the school at Yellville-Summit sent me a letter saying that they had hired me to be their Home Economics teacher. So, I went up on the train to my new job and the superintendent of schools met me and he and his wife put my belongings in their car and we started out. We stopped at a fillings station and this big fellow came out and the superintendent said, “Well Mr. Patterson,” – he was the School Board President – “here’s our grab-bag teacher”, so that was my introduction to teaching in the Yellville-Summit School.
MJ: Could you share with us some of your experiences as a Home Ec teacher, some that are very vivid in your mind?
EC: Well, it was a surprise to me when I got to the school that I would also teach Biology and General Chemistry, not, General Science. So, but I had Home Economics classes in this one great big room in the high school building, and we had meager equipment, treadle sewing machines, and our cooking equipment was a kerosene stove with an oven that sat up on top of the burners, so we had some interesting experiences with that.
MJ: Now what about the chicken story? Could you tell me about that?
EC: Well, that was in 1942, was my first, forty-two and forty-three, and the school lunch program – can I go back to that?
EC: The school lunch program had, the school there had made arrangements to have a lunch program for their children with the help of the WPA program. So, the ladies in the cafeteria taught me a lot of things because I was not prepared to do quantity cookery. So, at the Home Economics program in this school they had an annual mother and daughter, and father and son banquet. So, we were going to have chicken and dressing, and at that time you couldn’t just go out and buy a chicken, or at least we didn’t have any money to buy it with. So each child that came to school brought a chicken, a live chicken. And by that time we had moved into a Home Economics building which was separate from the main building, and there were steep steps down at the back. So, we got our hot water, boiling water, ready and took it down to the back of the building. The boys came over from the Ag Department and they rang the chickens’ necks and we put them in the pots, then plucked the feathers off. And one chicken, they rang his neck, put him in that pot and he jumped up and ran off, so that was really excitement. Another part of that story that, to me, is really interesting is that, at home, we’d always skinned our chickens; we didn’t pick them. But I knew as a Home Economics teacher I had to bevproper and pick the chickens and save that. So we picked the chickens and took them up to the cafeteria for the, well, we cut them up, and then we took them up the cafeteria; they would cook the chicken, make the dressing for us. Well, later on one of the ladies got me off to the side and she said, “You didn’t take off the oil bags of those chickens.” And I didn’t even know they had one because we’d always skinned them and that part came off too, so that’s my chicken story.
MJ: Well, any other stories that come to mind?
EC: As far as Home Economics, teaching, I was there nine years and I had wonderful girls to work with. And we did home improvement projects, we did a lot of projects in the department. I remember one is a couch that we covered which was, took us a long time to do but the girls were so proud of that, accomplishing that. And, of course, during that time we worked with the FHA, which was the Future Homemakers Association. I took the girls to Camp Couchdale for the summer workshops, and also we went to some national meetings. And I remember one in Kansas City and one in Memphis. It was a good time.
MJ: Well now, did you go on for any advanced training or anything?
EC: Well, not at that time. I did start a master’s, before I left Yellville I did the master’s, started a master’s program, and that was where I first met Ms. Powell, because she was the director, director of the state program, and she had a workshop in Fayetteville that I attended.
MJ: Well, now could you tell us about how you volunteered to continue the school lunch program at Yellville?
EC: Okay, yes. See that was in 1943 at the end, that was right at the middle of, starting of the war effort, so the WPA program was phased out because women could go to the war plants and work, so they did not have the WPA program anymore. So, the superintendent said, “Well, we just can’t have it, we don’t have anybody to prepare the food.” And so I told him that I would; I hated to see the children not to be able to have food, because we had about five hundred children in that school and they were, it was really a poverty area even though we didn’t know it was poverty. And, in fact, I didn’t tell you at first that that school, before I arrived there, had set up their lunch program down under the bleachers in the basement of a building. And each child had brought his own plate, and cup, and saucer, and knife, and fork, and that kind of thing. The Ag teacher had built, their group had built the benches, and they had some meager equipment. In fact, the equipment included No. 10 washtubs and that kind of thing that they used for washing the dishes, and also, the ladies would make up hot roll dough the night before and leave it in that – those washtubs. I remember going up and seeing the dough that had risen up and just gone over the side of the tub onto the table. The Lord blessed us that we didn’t kill a bunch of children that way. But anyway, when he said, “Well, we just can’t have the program,”I said, “Well, I would like to try it.” He said, “Well, it’s your baby remember.” So I said, “I’ve been rocking that baby for the last sixty years.”
MJ: You sure have.
EC: But that was one of the most interesting parts of my work because I was not prepared for it. I had to do that besides my teaching, and I’m sure my teaching suffered because every day we had to have lunch. But the ladies that were working, they were older ladies and they couldn’t go off to get a job in a plant so they said they would be glad to stay. So they worked for a dollar a day that first year.
MJ: And what was your salary then?
EC: Oh, when I went to Yellville my salary was eighty dollars a month. And sometimes I had to take a warrant, which you cashed for five dollars less.
MJ: My goodness. Okay, how did you become involved with the school meals program at the state level?
EC: Well, since I went to that workshop, Ms. Powell, some way she liked me. So, when she had a vacancy on the staff she invited me to become a member of her staff. Of course that was, I was at Yellville nine years, and then I went to Bentonville one year and taught Home Economics there and was in charge of the lunch program. So, this was, I think it was about forty-six or seven that I had met her, but when the vacancy became available in 1953 she invited to come to join the state staff. We had four, the program in Arkansas, the National School Lunch Act was passed in 1946, and later in that year the legislature made it, some special funds available to set up the Department of Education, the Food Service Program in the Department of Education, and Ms. Powell and four ladies were hired to be supervisors. They were Mildred Stringfield, Lanell Rainey, Thelma Maharge, and Virginia Emory, so they all worked in the four different, they had the state divided into four areas. So, they were good friends of mine and I had met with them and talked with them a lot. And when Mildred decided to go to Louisiana as a supervisor, that was when Ms. Powell invited me to come and be on her staff.
MJ: Could you tell us about your work with the Arkansas School Food Service Association?
EC: Okay, the School Food Service Association was really an integral part of the state program. Ms. Powell, and Ms. Mildred Wilson, and Mr. Den, a Superintendent, and Mr. Edison, who was in the Department of Education that worked as a dispersing officer for the School Lunch section, went to Chicago I believe it was, when the two organizations went together and formed the American School Food Service Association. So, Ms. Powell was a believer in the Association so she did everything that she could to help the food service ladies in Arkansas organize the food service, AS-we call it ASFSA, but it’s Arkansas School Food Service Association. Those four people were charter members of the national association. And so, she just thought this was a way to help the ladies to gain skills in meeting people and conducting business, and of course the Association was used also as a training program, because we had district and state meetings where we always had food demonstrations and information about the program, how they could improve themselves. Ms. Powell was also a real believer in training programs for the food service people throughout the state, and in 1948 she set up the first statewide workshop that was at Conway. And some of my ladies from Yellville came down to that workshop, so there again was another way that I got acquainted with Ms. Powell. And then in 1963 she felt like we needed manager training so we set up the, or she set it up, with the cooperation of Dr. Marion Spears at the University of Arkansas, we set up a managers training program where we had three weeks that the ladies came to the University and we had classes for them in menu planning, work scheduling, and all of those different activities that they needed to do. And then the next summer they would come back for part two, and then the next summer part three, so, in 1965 we had our first graduation class of food service managers. And that program is still in, now the Department of Education still carries that on except, in 1980, we moved it to the central part of the state at Conway, because Fayetteville is a little distance for those people that lived in the far corners of the state. So, it’s the ASFSA and working in the Department of Education is also involved, there’s no real separating it.
MJ: Could you tell me about the V.B. Keith Association?
EC: Okay, when the Arkansas School Food Service Association was formed we had the black people that worked in the schools that wanted to, they wanted organization too. So, they organized as a part of the Arkansas School Food Service Association and they had a President, and the V. B. Keith, when they met they decided to name their association for Mrs. V.B. Keith, who was the wife of a dentist in Blyville, Arkansas, and she had been so interested in providing food service for the children in Blyville that were, the hungry children. And so she had done so much work that this group decided to name their organization for Mrs. Keith. And we had, they had a set of officers and they had district meetings and state meetings just the same as the Arkansas association did. And the, when we had, at that time Arkansas had, I think we had three delegates to the national association, so we were always sure that one of the delegates was a member of the V.B. Keith Association.
MJ: Now you were Southwest Regional Director of the National Association of School Food Services?
EC: Yes, yes and I was Southwest Regional Director, I can’t remember the year now, anyway.
MJ: Well could you tell us a little bit about that, your experience working in that position?
EC: Well that was a wonderful experience for me. That was in 1972, I remember. The, I would go to the National, the board meetings, they had three or four board meetings a year, so I would go to Denver. At that time our national office was in Denver, so I would go to the meeting and participate in whatever the Association was doing. I represented the seven states in the southwest part of the United States, so then I would communicate with the Presidents or with those chapters, with those state programs to help them to know and to put into effect whatever the national association, the goals that they had. And it was a real privilege to visit each one of those states, and visit most of the time for their state meeting. Ms. Powell, earlier Ms. Powell had been a Southwest Regional Director, and we also had another lady from Arkansas, Madge Hudgins, who had been a past President, who was one of our past Prsidents, she also was a Southwest Regional Director. And since then we’ve had Barbara Cole.
MJ: How has school food service changed in Arkansas over the years?
EC: Oh my goodness, from the war stubs to the most modern of schools that we have. When I first started visiting schools and, when I came to the Department of Education I had the northwest part of the state and I visited schools all over that area, and they were all rural schools, most of them were rural schools at that time. Very small little schools that, where the PTA, like at Yellville, had put a program together, and most meager equipment that you could ever expect. As I say, we washed dishes in washtubs, and they had stoves that would, just like home-sized stoves I remember. And they made everything, I mean there was nothing purchased at all, they made. Of course, we received commodities; they had lots of flour. I remember going to a school where they had a big table out in the center of the room and it was piled up with dough, and the ladies were rolling it out cutting out biscuits. So it has, the program has changed so much from, from just mothers really. We had dedicated mothers that served, worked in the cafeteria, and now we have people that are trained to carry on the program. So there would just be no way to describe how it has changed, it has gone from the buggy day all the way to the supersonic.
MJ: How about the training needs of the school food service employees?
EC: Okay, I had mentioned a little bit about that. Ms. Powell was very, really was very interested in having the ladies have as much training as possible, so we did that training in the district meetings every year. And then, at the state conferences we always had training programs for them, to help them to grow. And that was then the reason that she developed the managers training program that we started at Fayetteville. At that same time we developed a workers training program so that we, in each one of the districts we had a training program for the workers, where the staff from the Department of Education would go out and these would be a week’s workshop, where they would cook food, show them how to cook and how to plan menus and all of those things.
MJ: Wonderful. During your sixty years, who do you remember as an outstanding leader or the outstanding leaders in the national and state child nutrition efforts?
EC: Well, of course I would have to mention Ms. Powell as the very first one; she was such an outstanding person. And then the four area supervisors that I mentioned earlier. Mr. Nevin, who followed Ms. Powell as State Director, and Mr. Border was, and then Dorothy Caldwell, and now Wanda Shockey. Those have been the leaders at the state level and they have all done a wonderful job. At the national level, there are so many that I had the privilege of working with, Jo Martin, and Gene White, Jane Wynn, Mr. Stalker who was from Massachusetts, Louise Frolich, and Louise Sublette. I had the privilege of being on the board at the same time Louise Sublette was President, so we had, and you know now the Louise Sublette Award is available for food service managers or workers throughout the United States; Pat Byer, one of our editors of the journal. There’s just so many, those are a few of them.
MJ: That’s wonderful. Ms. Camp, could you tell us a little bit about the Type A, Type B, and Type C lunches?
EC: Well, it was legislated that the school should serve a balanced lunch, and that was called the Type A, which included the same things that we have on the menu now, except that we had to have two teaspoons of butter included. And they had the Type A lunch; you could serve it with milk or without. And you had the Type B lunch, which was half of the amounts of the Type A lunch. And then the Type C lunch was milk only. So, in the school that I was working with in 1943, there was, this school, the government provided some commodities but we didn’t have, and then they also provided about three cents a meal that we had for those until the National School [Lunch] Act passed. But when it passed, that’s when we started serving the Type A lunch. But in our school, we only served the Type A without milk because there was not a source of milk in that community. So, the reimbursement at that time was nine cents per lunch, so it was two cents less because we did not have milk, so we had, we received seven cents for our meals. During that time that we couldn’t, did not have a source of milk, the government had provided us, through the Commodity Program, with hundred pound barrels of dry milk. So, our ladies made hot chocolate for the children, so they had milk but it just couldn’t count as far as the reimbursement was concerned. But then, in two or three years, one of the local farmers came up with a dairy that was approved by the Health Department so that we could have milk. And so that was when we first started having the regular Type A lunch. Now during that time, the children paid five cents for their lunch in our schools, and if they were not able to pay, the County Welfare Office would certify to us that this family was not able to pay for their lunch, so they were served a free lunch. And so our school served about ten percent of their children free. That was before the national legislation included free and reduced price lunches in the legislation.
MJ: Well, could you tell us about the butter story?
EC: Oh, well since the Type A meal required two teaspoons of butter, of course, at the beginning of that time it could be margarine. And we got, because it was cheaper, and we didn’t have butter as a commodity, we bought the margarine in blocks. It was white; they brought the color so we would color the butter and serve it. But then later on, when we could actually get butter in little squares we put it on the plate. I don’t know, I guess I just didn’t know that you could also use it in the preparation of food, but anyway, we’d always put a pat of butter on the plate. And one day, and we had benches that they served on so, you know, you’d climb in and sit down at the table on a bench. And one day I had butter on my skirt, and I wondered where in the world it came from. And in this school at that time, the teachers were stressing a clean plate, so the children had to have a clean plate to join, belong to the club. So, I couldn’t figure where that butter came from. When I looked under the table, the children had put their little pats of butter up under the table.
MJ: And that’s where you got the butter on your skirt?
EC: That’s where I got the butter on my skirt. So, we had to work out that, work that problem out. And then they allowed us to put the butter in the food so, but we still had the two teaspoons of butter until later. I do not remember when they changed that regulation.
MJ: That is wonderful. Could you talk a little bit about the Special Milk Program?
EC: Well, of course the Congress passed legislation that would allow a Special Milk Program, Special Milk. So the children would, the schools would provide milk to the children besides the pint that they had for lunch. And this was a program that, at that time many of the schools did not have lunch programs, so it was really a very outstanding thing for those schools to have milk. The schools used a lot of ingenuity in getting that special milk to the children because they were paid a reimbursement for any half pints of milk that was served beyond the one with the lunch. At that time some of the milk companies developed vending machines, so we had vending machines that we would get the milk, and then five gallon plastic bags that would fit into this machine, and then we had these cone shaped cups that someone would stand and distribute, dispense the milk to the children. So that was one way of increasing the use of Special Milk. Another program that I don’t think we mentioned either was the Breakfast Program that was in some of the later legislation. And so we were one of the pilot states, or we had some pilot Breakfast Programs. I know I worked with the school at Russellville especially, in helping them to get a Breakfast Program set up in one of the satellite schools that didn’t have lunch, but we could do the breakfast so that they could serve it at their tables.
MJ: Well Ms. Camp, now you’ve been rocking this baby for over sixty years now. Why do you stay involved with the program?
EC: Well, the school food service program has been my life. As I say, I started working in 1942. I actually started working with the program in ’43, after the WPA gave it up. And, through the years that I taught school I was the manager or director I guess you might say. I was the Homemaking teacher and did the school lunch on the side. After I left Yellville I went to Bentonville, which was a much larger school, and there again I had charge of the lunch program. And the ladies are just so wonderful; I just love all of our school lunch people. The next year I was at the University of Arkansas and worked in the teacher training program, and visited the teacher trainers, the student trainers that were in schools where they actually were working with lunch programs. So, then I came to the Department of Education and worked thirty-five years in the Department of Education with particularly, all the time with school lunch. So, it’s just been a passion all through these years to work with the children, to work with the teachers. When I first started working with the Department of Education, when we’d go out to the schools, we worked with the ladies helping them to improve their menus and their techniques of preparing the food and getting it served to the children. And that was the type thing that I really liked to do, and I worked with that until the time that we came along with AIMs and CREs and those kind of things, when we had to spend most of the time working with the superintendent or the people that counted the lunches. So, I’ve always liked working with the people, the workers in the cafeterias. And I guess that I just have a passion for that, and it has been a, legislation has been one of my real things that I have really helped, wanted to work with as far as getting adequate funds for providing for the lunches. It was my privilege to be on the Legislative Committee of the American School Food Service Association for three years, when we worked directly with the Congress and people to get money for the children, and I still support legislation. We were so pleased when school lunch became an entitlement program, and it worries me now that they’re even talking about some of the entitlement programs should not be continued. That is one of things that I think we need to work very much with Congress to help them to know how important this program is, for the benefit that it has been to the children. From the time that I started working I saw hungry children. In fact, I might tell you about visiting a little school in Conway County, way back there. And on that day they had a tomato cobbler, which I had never heard of. But anyway, they took their tomatoes and did them just like I would a peach cobbler. But, as I was observing the children, they took their plates back to the counter, to the, took their dishes back to the counter. And here was one little boy standing up there at the counter all the time and I wondered why, but then I looked and he was eating the leftover food that the other children had left. So we’ve gone from that type of poverty and the needs of children for food to today, where we have nutrition education that, to me, is such an important part of our program. That we have the teachers that are working with students having classes that helps them to know the importance of school food service and eating a balanced meal. I’ve just seen so many children that have, their health has been improved; they’re ready to develop into responsible citizens because they have had adequate food at school.
MJ: Well, Ms. Camp, you’re retired now.
MJ: Could you talk a little bit more about your involvement and what you’ve been doing since your retirement?
EC: Well, in 1986, before I retired, our Association was having problems with membership records and that type of thing, and the national association was wanting us to send our dues to them. Well, I felt like that we needed to keep that as a state activity, and so I agreed to be in charge of the memberships, so they sent the memberships to me and I would correct the applications and send them on to national, and that was the year before I retired. After I retired I agreed to go ahead and do that, so I did that until 1999. And later on they gave me a title of being the Executive Director of the School Food Service Association, but it was a title only, but I did the work. And I have just enjoyed working with the ladies. It’s, to me, the food service people are just the finest people in the world, and I just wouldn’t think about not working with them. And so, I guess that’s the main reason that I’ve stayed. Since ’99 I’ve not been the Executive Director, but I have been in charge of the Foundation Program for the Association.
MJ: Isn’t there an award named after you?
EC: Well, that was one of the honors that the state, the state association has been, they’ve been so good to me. They’ve set up what they call Earnestine Camp Award for Managers, so every year from the chapters they write up a history of what they’ve done to promote the program, and then at our state conference they are awarded a plaque, for those that are winners. Another thing that the state association did for me years ago was named me a life member of the American and the Arkansas School Food Service Association, so I have to keep on because I’m a member. And I love working with them; I just, I go to their district meetings. I mean their DD, we call district director’s meetings, I attend those and I go to the state meeting, and I just love them.
MJ: Well, Ms. Camp we certainly appreciate you being with us today and I know that Arkansas appreciates you also, and so thank you very much.
EC: Well, I love them.