Interviewee: Elizabeth Beavers
Interviewer: Sandy Sadler
Date: August 3, 2006
Location: Durant, Oklahoma
Description: Elizabeth Beavers is an Oklahoma native who dedicated many years of service to child nutrition in both Oklahoma and Texas. Her double major in home economics and business gave her a solid base on which to build a long and highly rewarding career.
Sandy Sadler: I’m Sandy Sadler. It’s August 3, 2006, and I’m in Durant, Oklahoma, with my good friend, Elizabeth Beavers, in her dining room. This week is a special week for you because it’s your eighty-fifth birthday.
SS: I thought it would be a good idea to start 85 years ago. Where were you born and where were you reared?
EB: My mother and daddy lived in Bells, Tennessee, after they were married. My mother was originally from Durant, which was Indian Territory when she was born and she wanted to come back and have me right here with her own mother. She came on a train and I was born here and she stayed about a month until she felt comfortable to go back to Tennessee. They lived there for several years, so my first 3 years were in Bells, Tennessee. They then moved to Durant, Oklahoma, where I attended the Durant Public Schools through college at Southeastern State Teachers College (now Southeastern Oklahoma State University.)
SS: So, speaking of schools, what was your earliest recollection of school food service and school lunch?
EB: The very earliest that I remember, and it’s interesting as I think back as to how the children were fed and being fed now. I was in Russell Training School located on the Southeastern campus, which was a training school for teachers. They would allow us to go over to the cafeteria at the college and have two graham crackers and a half pint of milk every morning. I couldn’t wait until we could go for the snack.
SS: And for lunch?
EB: We went home for lunch.
SS: So, there was no food service for lunch in your school?
SS: After public school you started college? What’s your educational background, and how did you get involved in child nutrition programs?
EB: I was always interested in food service, or actually Home Economics. I had two of the best teachers. I had two majors; one was in Home Economics and the other was in Business. At the time I graduated there was no opening for a homemaking teacher. My Home Economics teacher encouraged me to seek out the position with the Oklahoma State Department of Education. I interviewed for that position and was accepted. I have been fortunate in that I was able to work with children, although not in the classroom.
SS: Before you got your degree you started your career with the child nutrition program with the Works Progress Administration, isn’t that right?
EB: Yes. I married while I was still in school and before I received a degree. I thought that was the most important thing in the world. Having lost my mother when I was sixteen, I wanted to have a home. I fell in love with a fellow student who was a basketball player at the college, and a good one. He accepted a position in Pontotoc, Oklahoma. We moved there in 1941 for that school year. There they had what they called a ‘hot lunch program’. I went to the school during the noon hour and assisted the ladies serving the lunch. They received meager surplus commodities to prepare lunch. It was called the WPA (Works Progress Administration) Project. They sent them food mix, potatoes and a lot of vegetables and items to make the soup. Basically, that’s what they had, soup mix. We also served the children grapefruit juice, due to a surplus of grapefruit.
SS: The food service program, at that time, was more in line with using surplus commodities. Isn’t that right?
EB: That is what it was designed to do. It was to remove some of the surplus products from the market so that the children could benefit from it, as well as the farmers getting the sale of their product.
SS: Did schools elect to use this program? Was it a formal program or did they just cook for the children?
EB: It was not mandatory and every school did not have the program. Pontotoc had it, as well as a number of schools in the area. This was designed to make it possible for the children to have a hot meal at school.
SS: Did the children have to pay for those meals?
EB: Since I was only there to help serve I was not that familiar with payment. I believe they paid a few pennies each day to buy other products and maybe to pay the cooks. I didn’t receive anything as I was a volunteer. I expect most of it was donated.
SS: Was there much meat served in those programs?
EB: Not particularly, no. I don’t recall seeing a lot of meat being delivered or prepared due to their meager equipment. There was very little refrigeration.
SS: So most of the items were canned?
EB: Yes, that’s right.
SS: The cooks in the kitchen used regular equipment from their own kitchens?
EB: Whatever they could put together. I think they even brought some of the equipment from their home.
SS: I remember a story you told me once about at the end of that school year you and your husband, who was a senior sponsor, taking the juniors and seniors on a trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas. Do you remember that?
EB: Yes, I do. It was an interesting trip. World War II had started. Our 45th Division of the National Guard of Oklahoma had been mobilized and everything was in short supply. Gas had been rationed and schools could not get gas for extra trips. A number of foods were also unavailable. I specifically remember sugar being rationed.
One of the student’s father had a trucking business. He was concerned that the students wouldn’t be able to go to Hot Springs for their senior trip. Schools could not use a bus, other than for school activities, due to the gas shortage. He allowed us to take his old truck, with side boards on it, to transport the juniors and seniors to Hot Springs, Arkansas. Rubber was also in short supply. We had a blowout in Broken Bow, Oklahoma. We were stressed about what to do. After contacting the truck’s owner, we talked to the city officials. They allowed us to spend the night in City Hall. The girls stayed on one side of the building in the hallway, while the boys stayed on the other side of the building in another hallway. We had our bedrolls. We made it just fine while we were awaiting the truck’s owner to send another tire to continue our trip. After the tire was received we proceeded on our trip.
Upon arrival in Hot Springs we settled in a park equipped with screened-in buildings. Many schools took the same trip as an activity. It appears that is when I started my food service career. We were allowed to take a crate of eggs from the Commodity Program. We brought two large skillets and prepared scrambled eggs in one and toast in the other. Our stay consisted of three days. I didn’t hear one complaint about food. The students really enjoyed the food and the trip.
SS: Well, if you were cooking Elizabeth, I’m sure you wouldn’t. After you left that school district, then you came back to Durant?
EB: Yes, we did. I wanted to continue my education. Therefore we returned in order that I might do so. My husband took a job in Durant while I was working on my degree. During my second semester a superintendent from Amber, Oklahoma, phoned to ask if I could be there on Monday morning. He had three teachers who wanted to go to the teachers’ lounge and have coffee while the children were out for recess. He said “It isn’t going to be that way. While the children are on the campus you have to be with them.” Three teachers got mad, resigned, and left him with three vacant positions. My husband and I discussed the pros and cons and it was decided that I would take the position for one semester.
SS: And you worked with the food service employees as well?
EB: The superintendent asked if I would assist the lunchroom ladies in planning menus. They were receiving a lot of commodities and needed assistance in their utilization. Cabbage was one food with which the children were not familiar. The other was prunes. I knew what the menu was for each day. Therefore, I could prepare my students for the meal. At that time I was teaching second and third grade students. At lunch I said to the children, “I want each of you to come by and let me see your prune seeds so I will know how many you ate.” Of course they thought it was a game and were happy to show me their prune seeds. I laughed because we were learning to clean our plates and eat what was being served. I enjoyed working with them and encouraging them to eat everything on their plate and to belong to the ‘Clean Plate Club’.
SS: And that was your first addition to nutrition education at that time?
EB: Yes, it was. Of course I was doing my Home Economics every time I could get back to Durant and go to school, but it was during the war and they were having such a hard time getting teachers. That’s what was sad.
My husband joined me for the next school year in Amber as the boys and girls basketball coach. We both accepted contracts and I taught Home Economics, Yyping, and Shorthand. I then continued working with the school lunch ladies in planning menus and utilizing commodities. We were not on the National School Lunch Program as it was still being implemented by WPA. We did use many commodities available to us. It was a wonderful experience working with the lunch staff, as it did prepare me for my eventual career.
At the end of that school year my husband and I returned to Durant, where he took a coaching position at a nearby school and I continued my studies, and completed my degree in 1948. There was not a Homemaking position available in the area at that time. My Homemaking instructor, Hazel Vincent, encouraged me to apply to the Department of Education of Oklahoma. I did so and accepted a position as Southeastern Oklahoma Area Supervisor of the School Lunch Division.
SS: When the war came to a close equipment became available. How did that affect child nutrition programs?
EB: At the end of the war surplus equipment from the army bases and encampments became available as they were closed down. As an Area School Lunch Supervisor I assisted many schools in shopping the army surplus stores to purchase large equipment for their school lunch programs.
SS: What pieces? What kinds of equipment were they able to get?
EB: Schools were able to purchase dishwashing machines, two- and three-compartment sinks, potato peelers, refrigerators, steam tables, work tables, and small equipment.
Dr. Garland Godfrey, Superintendent of the Durant Public Schools, contacted me and asked if I would assist in establishing a school lunch program in their system. Southeastern State College purchased a barracks building and moved it to their campus in Durant. Durant Public Schools had acquired Russell Training School and made it into an elementary school on the college campus. This made the barracks available for a school lunch program. I was then asked to view the surplus equipment to determine if it would be feasible to use in their program. The equipment was selected, checked, repaired if necessary, and delivered. This was the first lunchroom established in the Durant Public Schools, in 1952. I was very proud of it, even though it was in a barracks building. Students from five schools were transported by bus each day. My daughter was in school and I saw that she was eating a Type A lunch. Grace Dobbins, hired to be manager of that lunchroom, was a former Homemaking teacher. She was thrilled to have the opportunity to become manager. She was then joined by Sophie Thomas. During that time I worked with both ladies in the testing of recipes for our statewide school lunch workshops.
SS: How many children did they feed at that time?
EB: We fed approximately 300 students.
SS: That was in 1948?
EB: No, that was beyond 1948. I was already working for the Department of Education School Lunch Division.
SS: So, the Child Nutrition Act was in place in 1946.
EB: Yes. It went from the WPA to the State Board of Education. They were responsible for the school lunch program. Of course, the state board determined what would happen in the Oklahoma Department of Education. They were our governing board.
SS: Was there reimbursement at that time from the federal government?
EB: Yes. They started making that available to the schools. They had to serve a Type A lunch, which we taught in our workshops. Milk had to be 3.75% butter fat or we would not authorize reimbursement for it. We had meals with and without milk. The reimbursement was 2 cents less if you did not serve milk. Delivery was not available to some schools.
SS: Well, there might not have been dairies available to deliver.
EB: That was part of it. We had so many schools. There were 51 schools in Bryan County when I took over the area. And you are right, they did not have the facility nor did they have the dairy that could bring the milk to them. However, when they realized it was a product they could get to the schools, dairies made that available as quickly as they could.
SS: I’m thinking about equipment again. Most of the people who worked in school lunchrooms were not trained professionally. Were they intimated by the quantity cookery equipment? How did they learn to use it?
EB: The consultants of the states of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, and Louisiana were trained by the Department of Agriculture in Dallas, Southwest Region. Dr. Willavon Tensley, Home Economics Department Head, assisted them in putting this program together. It was a strenuous two-week program to train all of us to:
1. learn to organize and teach the workshops.
2. to bring people in and do workshops.
3. to teach all the basic things about the program; and
4. use equipment and quantity recipes which the trainees had not experienced before that time. Previously, the work had primarily consisted of opening cans and doing what the worker knew from home.
SS: How many people attended that conference or workshop?
EB: Approximately 50 people from the five states. The first workshop Oklahoma hosted, after the training, was in Stillwater, at Oklahoma A&M University. There were approximately 1,000 people attending. The University made a dormitory available to us to house the participants for the week. Dr. Daisy I. Perdy, the head of the Department of Home Economics, assisted us with a workshop training program. She had been very interested in school lunch from a national standpoint. Mrs. Emma Nance, with the Department of Agriculture, came to Oklahoma and assisted our department in setting up training programs for teaching those attending. By the time we actually held the workshop we had outlines and programs of exactly what we would be teaching.
SS: Do you remember what those courses were?
EB: We had a class on food preparation and were able to serve all of those attending the workshop two meals a day. Those meals were Type A lunches that could be served in their own school. In that production class we would discuss the menu to be served and the recipes in detail. We then went into the kitchen and prepared those recipes, which we had tested in the Durant Public School kitchen. We prepared both a lunch and evening meal.
By the end of the 5-day workshop those attending went home with ten menus prepared at the workshop, with instructions as to their preparation. A 100-pack of recipes from the Department of Agriculture was included.
Additionally, we taught classes on equipment purchase and training, menu planning, quantity food purchasing, commodity utilization, and time management. In the recipe classes a ‘little metal file box’ contained the recipes prepared at the workshop and the 100-pack recipes from the Department of Agriculture.
SS: So that was really their first set of quantity recipes for them to work from.
EB: Yes, it was.
SS: You did the food preparation and service class, and within that you were then able to integrate planning menus, how to use standardized recipes, and how to use equipment?
EB: Yes. In addition to our food classes an equipment company was brought in to display their line of equipment, such as dish machines, mixers, steam tables, etc. During breaks the participants could visit the display of the equipment companies.
SS: At the same time were you teaching kitchen management, purchasing foods, and those kinds of administrative functions?
EB: Yes. We used the expertise of some of the companies to teach, because women were still saying “those gallon cans”. They were not gallon cans, and that was something we did not entirely understand either. Later, we all learned that they were described as the #10 can.
We had a company actually show us how to drain the liquid and measure exactly what was in the can. There was a lot of difference between the cans we bought. They were able to realize the cost per serving and determine the best product for the value. A common phrase heard was, “The picture of the product is in the can, not on the outside.”
SS: How interesting; and all of that is very appropriate for today’s training.
EB: Yes. I’m afraid we’ve lost some of that information in training. We don’t have the same people that we trained years ago. We are getting new people and they need to be trained now as much as they did then. We never get through training personnel.
SS: Once you have someone trained they quit or retire, and you start over. You have referred several times to a Type A lunch and I think some of the younger people in the industry don’t realize there was originally a Type A, Type B, and Type C lunch. Was it less meat, less vegetables?
EB: Yes. In the beginning I think there was one ounce of meat in the Type B lunch and less vegetables. The Type C lunch was milk only.
SS: And then a difference in reimbursement for those?
EB: Yes, because we still had schools unable to serve a Type A lunch. At that time the Oklahoma School Lunch Division was being reviewed by the Department of Agriculture, School Lunch Division, by Gene Good and Emma Nance, the Home Economist. The three of us made reviews.
In one school my duty was to tell the principal she could not serve beans every day and that they had to vary the menu. It was a small eight-grade school. The schools, along with their reimbursement claims they returned to the agency, had to include the menu and receipts for food purchases. My director, Drew V. Langley, noticed the school had not purchased meat and other products, including milk, needed to comply. It was my duty to go into this particular school and explain to the administrator that the menu had to be varied.
Upon entering the school, the first thing that all three of us saw was a little boy with a girl’s coat on and the sleeves came up to his elbows. It was far too small. He was just into it enough to try to keep warm. This was in December and very cold. We knew this was the beginning of what we were going to see in that school.
We visited with the principal and discussed the school lunch program. We planned to have lunch but I felt guilty as I felt those children needed that food. The principal was preparing the lunch. She was cooking pinto beans on a pot-bellied stove in their classroom. She explained that she brings in milk when she comes in on Monday morning and they were able to keep enough milk for two days. Then, they serve meals without milk.
They had no refrigeration. The lunch was meager. I turned to Mr. Good and Mrs. Nance and said, “I have no intention of telling them they cannot serve beans. Now, what do you think?” They said, “We’re not either.” We could at least see they were getting something for their stomachs. When we returned Mr. Langley asked, “What did they say when you told them they couldn’t serve beans every day.” I said, “Mr. Langley, I did not tell them they couldn’t.” I advised him of the circumstances and said I was going down to the Welfare Office and tell them that they needed to get some more beans to that school because they were almost out.
SS: Do you think in those days a lot of children were hungry?
EB: I know they were. They had the filling meal at noon, whatever it was. I have heard some say that that was the only meal the children would get because of the circumstances at home. I even heard a father say that they had walnuts and pecans at night for their evening meal.
SS: So, there was not much plate waste in those days.
EB: I don’t remember seeing any plate waste at that time.
SS: Nor complaints about what was served?
EB: Right. Now you see, that program was started as a hot lunch program. They had not progressed very far. It wasn’t too many years until they began to do away with a lot of these little schools and consolidate them with larger schools. Right here in Bryan County there were 51 schools in this county. Now, there are about ten, so over the years they’ve consolidated and were able to bring those children into larger facilities, which have better programs. I remember going to one of the schools in this county where they had a wooden stove. I would watch them put wood into it. We taught them how to make rolls, and they’d been to workshops where they learned to make them. They had their oven door open, and I said something to them about that and was told it was to keep the rolls from burning. They had no control over the heat. Those rolls were delicious.
SS: Your early years were in Oklahoma and I met you in Texas. So, how did you get from Oklahoma to Texas?
EB: I have been in Texas twice. I was at home getting dressed for work one morning when my telephone rang. Superintendent Fred Hunter from Beaumont, Texas, called to ask me about a lady who had applied for the Cafeteria Director’s position for their school district. I informed him I knew her and that she was a Homemaking teacher in the Elmore Oklahoma School District. She assisted the ladies in menu planning and did purchasing for the cafeteria. Their lunchroom served about 250 students. It was my opinion that she would make an excellent Director of Food Service, but would need assistance from someone for about a month.
He said, “That’s not why I called you. I called to offer you the job.” I replied, “That’s not ethical.” “It may not be ethical, but I sure have gotten a lot of good employees by doing that,” he responded.
My first husband had passed away. I had met a gentleman who was a superintendent of a small school district and we planned to be married. I mentioned that to Mr. Hunter. After discussion, he mailed both of us an application, we interviewed, and accepted the offer.
SS: So, you were Director of Food Service in Beaumont Texas Independent School District?
EB: Yes, from 1959 through 1961. Beaumont was not on the National School Lunch Program, but was receiving surplus commodities. I observed stacks of flour, shortening, oil, cheese, and dried milk not being used. I am a proponent of ‘food production’. In the course of my school cafeteria visits I noted they did not have quantity recipe files. Their ‘food production’ was simply opening cans and heating the contents.
Upon arrival in May a managers meeting was called. In explanation to the staff they were informed that I had seen many commodities in the central storeroom not being utilized. I further advised them I noted they had been buying bread and other prepared products that we could make using the commodities, thereby saving money for the program.
It was my observation that the program was not being effectually implemented through the use of quantity recipes, commodity usage, and a more effective working staff.
Beginning with the new school year (1959) I explained to them that we would start preparing our own bread products, which included hot rolls, hamburger buns, french bread, sweet rolls, and desserts. This met with much resistance. However, the plan was to instruct them in the proper way to prepare these foods. One manager in that whole system came to me and said, “Mrs. Beavers, would you give me the recipe that we will be using? I’d like to try to make hot rolls in my school.” It was pleasant knowing I had one convert before I ever started.
In August our first workshop was held in one of the schools (with no air conditioning and terrible humidity). I stood in that heat and demonstrated bread preparation for the managers and staff of all 30 schools.
When school began that year I asked each manager to bring in a hot roll to our first meeting as their admission. Each person was to bring a roll and they each observed what the other was doing in a competitive game. They got very good at making rolls. We even had children who would buy a dozen rolls and eat butter and bread. We had to eliminate that, as it was not healthy. Understandably, the bread smelled good and enticed the children to eat that.
SS: That was still a non-reimbursable meal?
EB: That’s right, and they were in debt when I went there.
SS: That’s what I was going to ask you, what that effect had on the bottom line?
EB: The cafeteria department was $60,000 or so in debt as the cafeteria director was retiring. My managers were advised we would have to work out of that indebtedness. In that first year we were able to get out of debt and put the program in the black by $12,000. We did this by baking our own bread, utilizing our commodities more efficiently through better food production, and using competitive purchasing from vendors. A monthly report of income and expenditures was furnished to each of the 30 schools reflecting the performance of each. It was a challenging opportunity for each to do their best to get into first place. It became an efficient way to make the program more cost effective.
SS: I know it was in Beaumont that they called you about the lambs. Tell us about that.
EB: Mr. Hunter asked me to apply to the Texas Education Agency to participate in the National School Lunch Program. We were accepted.
In our second year of participating (1960), Charles Hicks, Director of the School Lunch Division in Austin, called me and said, “Mrs. Beavers, we have lambs that are going to be made available to us. They are frozen and I would like to know how many you can take.” I replied, “First, I must call the locker plant, (because we did not have a facility for that) and ask them if they can accept, process, and store them for us.” I inquired of the plant if they could accept 500 lambs until we could use them. It was agreed and I informed Mr. Hicks.
When the 500 lambs arrived I went to the locker plant. I’d never seen so many carcasses of lambs in all my life. They were almost stacked to the ceiling. They arrived in a boxcar. They were processed into roasts, butterfly chops, stew, and ground meat. We had some good cooks who knew how to season, and they seasoned our products in order that the children did not know they were eating lamb. It was delicious. How many schools can have butterfly chops? It looked good on the menu.
SS: Is that what you called them, butterfly chops? You didn’t tell them what kind?
EB: No, we didn’t. We just called it butterfly chops, roast, or ground meat.
SS: Which brings to mind a question about how you got groceries in those days. School food service was a pretty significant segment of the food service industry, so distributors were willing and eager to get your business?
SS: Were you able to get deliveries? You probably didn’t have very much freezer space and refrigerator space at the schools.
EB: We were able to use the locker plant, and after we went onto the school lunch program our business manager saw what we had to spend for locker service. He decided to build us a facility.
The prior director of cafeterias did not use a bidding system. I brought in the bidding system. It angered a company in Beaumont because they were getting all of the business. Example: The detergent she was using in the kitchen for the dish machine was a product of one of her friends. He purchased it from a supplier, put his name on the label, and sold it to the school at a mark-up price. In the bidding system a vendor came and said, “We sell that product to that man; he puts his own label on it and sells it to the school.” The vendor said, “I can sell that to you for $20 to the 100 pounds cheaper than you are getting if you buy it directly from our company.” We immediately changed suppliers. We had the same product at a better price. This resulted in another savings.
SS: I’m sure that contributed to your bottom line as well.
EB: Yes it did by getting bids. A bidding system was established in our office by using a chart of five companies that were bidding.
The schools sent in their order for food and supplies for the month. The bids were placed on the chart and highlighted as to product, price, and company. Evaluation was made according to this guideline.
Different companies were selected for various products and no one company was used exclusively, because we might not always buy the cheaper one, due to the fact that we also want a good product. We had a class on can cutting where we measured the product versus the liquid, thereby determining actual weight of contents.
SS: Did you have bread and milk delivery? Well, not bread because you were making your own bread.
EB: We began making our own bread so basically we didn’t have bakery products coming to our school.
The milk supplier had charged whatever they wanted. I sent out bid sheets to various companies. When they were returned I met with our business manager to discuss those bids. I informed him, “The company that has been delivering milk to our schools is not the low bidder and another company is willing to deliver to all schools for a lesser price.” He said, “Go with it.” This reflected another savings.
In buying equipment we did the same thing. We sent out bid sheets. This was the first time they had ever gotten bids for anything. From my experience, I knew this needed to be done for additional savings.
SS: So your vendors delivered directly to the schools. How many broad line distributors did you have, or did you get your meats from one and your vegetables from another?
EB: As a general rule, if we received a good bid, we used that product. I checked schools to be sure we were receiving what was actually ordered.
On one occasion a meat company decided against doing the bids. I gave the bid to someone else. The next year they wanted to bid again and bid lower. They didn’t realize I had the managers weighing the products they were receiving. For example, if they ordered ten pounds of ground meat, it better be 10 pounds of ground meat. As the managers weighed the product they realized they were being shorted by several ounces up to a half a pound. We stopped purchasing from that company.
SS: Was your milk delivered in half pints?
EB: Yes, it was.
SS: In glass?
EB: In the early days it was in glass. By the time I went to Beaumont in 1959, it was in paper cartons.
SS: And produce? Did it come from broad line?
EB: Produce was pretty much local. We had two companies and bought all of our produce by using the bid system.
SS: And you were able to use local produce? How did you get from Beaumont to the state agency?
EB: I had to make the difficult decision to leave that area, due to my allergic reaction to the chemicals being released from the gas and oil refineries there.
Ruby Schultz, Kansas Director of School Food Service, informed me of a vacancy in Garden City, Kansas, a district in southwest Kansas. My husband and I accepted positions in the Finney County School District for seven years from 1962 to 1969.
As the Cafeteria Director in the Garden City, Kansas, system, I again had to convince the workers in the baking of bread and food production. The former director had allowed the managers to get together to plan their own menus for each month. My system was, of course, different. I didn’t try to change anything immediately and allowed them to plan their own menus during my first month to understand their system. They purchased bakery bread and many other prepared products. I knew I would be doing the menu planning for the next month.
In the second month I planned the menus, handed them out, and explained that it was a time savings for me to plan the menus. We then could discuss other important issues facing the managers. Later, the high school manager made an appointment for all the managers to meet with Dr. Leroy Hood, Superintendent of Schools, to discuss their insurance. Instead of insurance, they explained to him they could not prepare the menu I had given them on the Monday before. I was purposely neither advised nor included in their meeting. At this point an ethics issue surfaces.
Later, Dr. Hood asked me if I knew I ‘had a rebellion going on.’ I did not.
He said, “Those women said they can’t prepare that menu you asked them to do.” I replied, “They can or I wouldn’t have asked them to.” His response was for me to, “Go around and tell them they need to prepare it.” My reply was, “I will not go around and tell them to do what I have already put on paper; I’ll just see if they are. And, if you’re going to run the lunch program, you don’t need me.” He was very supportive and was glad I took that position.
Years later, when Dr. Hood was in Minnesota and I was active as the Southwest Regional Director in the American School Service and attending a meeting, I met a lady who knew him. He had explained to her all about me. He said, “She knows how to operate the food service program and I sure allowed her to do it.”
The manager at the junior high school refused to attend and explained to the high school manager she felt it was out of line. Due to an earlier, unrelated incident in her school, she felt confidence in Mrs. Beavers and that she should have been invited to the meeting.
On the following Monday, the principal, Tom Saffel, (who later became the superintendent of the district) and I had lunch at the high school, where they had served the lunch I had planned (that they said they couldn’t do). We purposely ate with Mrs. Nail, the cafeteria manager. When Mr. Saffel received his plate, he said, “Oh my, we have hamburgers and french fries today. I know the students like that.” Mrs. Nail replied, “Yes, but we can’t do these menus every day.” I sat there next to Mr. Saffel and said, “Mrs. Nail, you don’t have to prepare these menus if you don’t want to, but if you don’t, I will put someone in your place who will.” Her response was, “You can’t fire me; I quit.” She then turned in her keys that day. That was the ONLY incident we had and there were no future incidents of that nature. As in many cases, the need for change and new innovations is difficult to those accustomed to their own style.
SS: So, I guess the central planning of meals did increase the quality of meals served to children.
EB: Yes, it did. Additionally, we had better participation.
SS: You needed consistency throughout the district. I still run into school districts occasionally where the individual school mangers plan the menus, but it’s, of course, very difficult to manage.
EB: Teachers would approach me about coming into the classroom to talk with the children if there were new foods they had not tried. They would say ,”Don’t put that on my plate. I don’t like it”, or some other negative comment about the lunches. The classroom meetings were arranged. In discussion with the students I would ask them to say to the ladies in the serving line, “Would you just put a small portion on my plate, because I’m just now learning to like that.” The motto was, “If you try something seven times, you will be surprised how you’ll learn to like that food.”
We did have many students coming through the line commenting, “Please put a small portion on my plate. I’m just now learning to like it.” Therefore, it was on their plate in proper portions and they were eating it.
SS: That was before Offer vs. Serve.
EB: That’s right. I was in Texas before we started that program.
SS: You mentioned your affiliation with American School Food Service. You were very active in professional organizations all through your career. Tell us what positions.
EB: Dr. Daisy I. Perty, Director of the Home Economics Department at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, was instrumental in getting me to join and become involved in the American School Food Service Association. In approximately 1948 the organization was just beginning to assist schools in all states. She encouraged all of us to sign up and become members of the organization. Of course, I joined shortly after I began working for the Oklahoma Department of Education, and continued throughout all of my working days. In fact, when in Texas, I was asked to place my name on the ballot for SW Regional Director of ASFSA covering the states of Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. I was elected and our association continued to vigorously work to improve the quality of the program to assist the states in improving their associations.
Dr. John Perryman was elected as the First Director of ASFSA in the home office, then located in Denver, Colorado. While I was attending a meeting of the Department of Agriculture in Denver, I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Perryman as he was taking office. I enjoyed working with him for many, many years.
SS: We left off in Kansas. Is that when you came back to Texas again?
EB: Yes. In 1968, I was working in my office. My secretary said, “This is long distance for you.” The conversation proceeded, as follows:
Mr. Hicks – “Do you know who this is?”
Elizabeth – “I know your voice but I can’t think who you are.”
Mr. Hicks – “This is Charles Hicks in Austin, Texas, with Texas Education Agency.” I told him that I knew him because I had worked with him too many years not to recognize him and said, “I’m happy you called.”
Mr. Hicks – “I’m calling for one reason. I’m opening two new area offices and I want you to come and work with us. There is going to be one in Waco and one in Big Spring. You may have either one of them.”
Elizabeth – “I would rather have the Waco area because that is nearer to Oklahoma and I can go home to see about my father.”
Mr. Hicks – “Would you come in for an interview with the Commissioner and his assistant so that everyone would be in agreement?”
During the Christmas holidays I went to Austin for an interview. Upon my return to Kansas I received a telegram offering me the position. My contract was still in effect in Kansas until the end of the school year. I advised Mr. Hicks I would be interested in the position, if still available, at that time. He agreed to hold the position for me.
Since my husband was a teacher and would need a position, we went to Waco during spring break. He was hired as a teacher and later became a principal in Waco Independent School District.
SS: I think that having been Director of Food Service in more than two districts and working in other school districts in child nutrition programs, you had a great influence on how you performed as a compliance monitor and as someone who did technical assistance. Could you talk about that a little, how your prior experiences affected how you did your job in compliance.
EB: For me it began during workshop presentations in Oklahoma, wherein we taught bidding, purchasing, and related procedures to our workers. However, in Beaumont I had never bought or purchased food, because I had always just taught people how to do it.
When I actually began the process of purchasing for those 30 schools, I have to admit it was a traumatic experience for me to see the bills as they came in. In visiting with Mr. Hicks, my explanation was it is one thing to tell people HOW to do these jobs, but quite another to DO it. Those experiences were valuable in my career training.
SS: Having done those jobs in those districts gave you the background to teach others to do those jobs?
SS: I think it’s always good to have done the work before you go in and tell someone how to do it.
SS: Two significant pieces of legislation came after you were in Texas. The first was Offer vs. Serve. How did that affect the program? Was it something that was readily accepted by the schools? When they were paying cash, and I know a lot of districts were only cash in those days, how did you accommodate the child that could not afford to buy lunch?
EB: The two pieces of legislation were ‘Free and Reduced’ price meals and the ‘Offer vs. Serve’ programs. You know schools don’t accept anything at first. They were a little reluctant. Of course we did workshops and meetings to get them involved. At that time Mr. Charles Cole had replaced Mr. Hicks as State Director of School Lunch in Austin. The Department of Agriculture sent our agency directives on initiating those programs.
As an example, in Waco, when a child came through the line, they paid. There were no charges; nothing other than cash. They didn’t have tickets. I’m not sure they did much about the child who could not pay at that time. They probably brought their lunch.
Mr. Cole came to Waco for a meeting to explain the necessity of complying with both the ‘Free and Reduced’ and ‘Offer vs. Serve’ requirements. It would be necessary to have a ticket system.
Since I was the Area Consultant, the Director of Food Service in Waco came to me and explained she did not intend to participate in the ticket system. She then retired.
Mr. Lewis Norris was then hired for that position. He was credited with devising a ‘ticket system’. Due to a privacy issue it was not feasible to designate whether a child was paid, reduced, or free in the food line. Therefore, the ‘ticket system’ evolved so that only the cashier knew what type lunch was being served. This information was furnished to the department to compile necessary statistical records in order for the districts to receive reimbursement.
In Mr. Norris’ second year as director a federal audit was conducted by the Department of Agriculture, as was customary in the larger school systems. Upon completion of their audit they came to my office to discuss the results. As to the findings, the auditors could find only one issue, that being an error on an application. It was corrected at that time. I was asked what my opinion might be in their giving a ‘no-fault’ audit. I assured them I saw nothing wrong with that. In fact, it was a gratifying feeling to know the program had improved that much in such a short time.
After initiating the Free and Reduced Program schools were furnished applications for distribution to parents requesting income information, number in family, etc. When returned, the school was authorized to select 10% of those applications for review and to contact the family to bring validation of such information.
As I was reviewing another school, a superintendent explained to me he had decided to review 100% of his applications, even though only 10% were required. One particular application had not been returned; therefore it had been denied. I put that application aside and personally wrote down the child’s name and school. I found the child, because I always went around the lunch tables and talked to the children to see if they liked their food. The little boy who had been denied had a sack lunch. I looked at his lunch and there was a piece of bread and a pickle. I could not stand that. It just bothered me. I wanted every child to have every opportunity. I said to him, “I’m going to sit down and have lunch and I want you to have lunch with me.” I bought his lunch that day.
Later, while visiting with the principal, I explained this child had a piece of bread and pickle in his lunch, indicating his need for a free lunch and told him he had the authority to approve his application, regardless of whether the family sends in the information.
Back in the superintendent’s office we were completing my review. We overheard a conversation with a parent and the secretary. It was the mother of that child. She said, “I got this from your office and I don’t understand it. You denied my little boy his lunch. We’re having a hard time. We’re living in our van on the creek bank and my husband gets out and picks up cans every day so that we will have something to eat. He can’t find a job. I couldn’t send you something about how much we are making.” That was all I needed. That little boy got free lunches.
SS: I know that at the beginning of the program when schools applied, they had to identify the methods they were going to use. Tell us a little about that process. You were asked to go to Austin to review those applications.
EB: When the applications came in I was called to Austin to review the applications. It was a lengthy process, as many had to be returned to the schools due to non-compliance.
Example: One administrator required children to be de-loused before they could have a free lunch. We had to reject his reason.
Example: The superintendent wrote that he would talk to the family and ask if they could pay. If they could not, he said, “Well, that’s all a mule can do.” We had to reject his reason.
This was during the time schools were applying for the program and many applications were returned several times before accepted.
SS: In addition to Offer vs. Serve, in the 70’s we had the regulation allowing for the School Breakfast Program. Tell me how that went and whether or not the schools climbed on board.
EB: Not well at all. In fact, when it became available, the school could accept or reject it. Texas decided not to participate. However, legislators in poverty stricken areas discussed implementing the Breakfast Program. It came to a vote and was made mandatory that every school with children on Free and Reduced lunches have the program. The agency then initiated it into the schools by consultants conducting area meetings. It met with a lot of opposition in the beginning, which occurs when force is used.
During a meeting in my area, a superintendent stood up and said, “Mrs. Beavers, I’m not mad at you, I’m just mad, because we are forced to have the program.” He then left. Some administrators apologized for his action. I explained it did not matter and it would be difficult for all of us until we got it started and we needed to do the best we could. Later, in the fall, I went to his school for a review and told his secretary who I was and said, “Maybe I need to throw my hat in first.” The superintendent came the door and said, “Mrs. Beavers, I heard that. You get on in here. The Breakfast Program is the best program we have. We have a lot of children on Free and Reduced but every child can come into the lunchroom and get breakfast. It’s a controlled situation in the morning for us now, from when we didn’t have it. I have to admit, I was wrong in not wanting the program.”
SS: That’s a wonderful story. I think that legislation in Texas required that if you had more than 10% Free and Reduced you were required to have the program. I am sure there was resistance.
EB: I don’t think we had many schools that had less than that, really.
SS: What are the significant changes you can see? You haven’t been in child nutrition for the past, what?
EB: I retired in 1986.
SS: ’86, that’s almost twenty years. From the time you began to the time you retired, what were the changes you saw; and if you have any impressions about today?
EB: We had a lot of changes from the beginning in the program and I feel as if they were all good changes. I was willing to go with whatever. It was the same attitude I had toward commodities. You never knew what kind of commodities you were going to get. But my attitude was, okay, let’s try them.
After the war, unused dried milk and dried eggs were in surplus and distributed to the schools for use in the school lunch program. I was in Oklahoma at that time. The schools were having a difficult time utilizing those unfamiliar products. We tested recipes using those products for the schools. In developing those recipes, it worked well for baking. In the dried eggs we added diced onions, Worcestershire sauce, etc., to give them a different flavor, rather than the bland taste.
In reviewing a school, they were concerned about utilizing commodities, such as the dried milk and eggs. At that time, the consultants traveled with small cases of equipment to demonstrate food preparation. I rolled up my sleeves and went to work in that school demonstrating how to prepare various recipes using the dried eggs and milk. This occurred frequently in other schools.
SS: If you had one bit of wisdom to impart on those who are child nutrition directors today or involved at the state or federal level, what would that wisdom be?
EB: As a child nutrition director, I believe, working one on one with children is very important. I feel the schools and maybe the teachers have gotten away from that. I would say we still need to teach nutrition to get children to eat properly and learn to eat what foods they should have. I’m thrilled to have President Bill Clinton working to get nutrition into the schools when I know he used to be a hamburger and french fry person. Now he is trying to get children to eat properly. This has been my life’s work and I wish to have others continue that goal. I would love to have school food service have Bill Clinton more involved in this movement.
SS: So, your wisdom is to focus on the child and teach nutrition.
EB: Yes. Anyone who has the ability to do it, working with children, should do it.
I have worked in my church to help provide a summer feeding program for children. I had some old equipment I personally bought from surplus, which we used in that program.
Now, I am working with them because we have children coming to our church whose parents aren’t even coming with them. I think that’s sad. I have started a Kid Closet at our church and donated funds for shoes and other needs they may have. I am still working with children. I did not give up my love of children. To help them get fed properly, I am leaving that up to someone else, but I am trying to clothe them so they can go to school and have a good lunch.
SS: Is there anything you would like to share with us before we close?
EB: Sandy, I am thrilled you are doing these interviews to preserve the history of the school lunch program. It is wonderful the National Food Service Management Institute has been organized, and now I can’t wait to go visit it. That’s one of the things I am going to ask my daughter to do. I’ll say, “Marilynn, it’s time to go to Mississippi. I have to see that institute and see what it’s all about.” My interest in children is still there. I hope the work you people in the Institute are doing generates all through the United States. The children need us all to work for them now as much as ever. Also, we need to get back to training people who are going into the lunchroom. I am afraid some of the cooking skills have been lost. I think we should get back to food production. I’m not sure I wouldn’t help with a workshop. The slogan is still true, “You are what you eat.”
SS: I’m sure you would. It has been a pleasure to be here. I thank you so much for your time and the lovely breakfast you provided us. We are going to close now. Thank you for participating.