Interviewee: Eugenia Bozeman

Interviewer: Annette Hopgood

Date: April 16, 2011

Location: Savannah, Georgia 

Description: Eugenia Bozeman served first as an area consultant and later as the manager coordinator for child nutrition programs in Georgia for over thirty years, and was also president of the Georgia School Food Service Association.

Annette Hopgood: I’m Annette Hopgood and I’m here in Savannah today interviewing Eugenia Bozeman, and some of you may know her as Eugenia Sneed, or Eugenia Rogers –

Eugenia Bozeman: Um hum, or Jackson. [Laughter]

AH: Or Eugenia Jackson.

EB: Some of us have had more fun in life than others.

AH: You certainly have had more than I have. There’s no doubt about that. I only have two names, and I hope it stays that way. Eugenia, tell us a little bit about yourself and where you grew up.

EB: I grew up in southwest Georgia, in Mitchell County, at a little place called Vada, and I went to Hopeful High School. And I want you to know there were fourteen in my senior class, but I was the valedictorian, and the Star Student.

AH: I think I’ve heard that before. Do y’all still have class reunions?

EB: We have not had one in years, but we’re having our fiftieth this year. I graduated in 1961.

AH: You are old, girl.

EB: Yes, I am. I truly am.

AH: Well we’re glad that you came today. And you’re building a new home down in the same general area, on your parents’ properly.

EB: We are. For the last three years we have traveled in a motor home fulltime around the U.S.

AH: This is with your husband Paul.

EB: With my husband Paul. We have been to all fifty states and have just had so much fun, and seen lots of things, and met lots of people. We’re really not sightseeing. We’re just looking at the way that people live, the lifestyle in different areas of the country.

AH: You’re not doing the ‘toury’ thing.

EB: No.

AH: What’s your earliest recollection of child nutrition programs? What are your memories?

EB: At Hopeful High School – I went all twelve grades there –

AH: It was a K-12 school?

EB: K? [Laughter]

AH: Not K-12 – you started in the third grade back then! One-Twelve, or One-Eleven –

EB: What’s amazing, we did go through Twelfth Grade. But a few years back before me they didn’t. But we had a cafeteria and we ate there every day. It was just something that we did. We had the brown trays – plates – we had the plates, not trays, they were divided plates. The people who worked there and served us were neighbors – grandmothers – one of my friend’s grandmothers and that sort of thing, so it was just a real comfortable place to be and just something that you did. Nobody EVER took their lunch.

AH: Right. That was unacceptable, unheard of.

EB: Right.

AH: Well, let me ask you first how you got involved in child nutrition then, and you can tell me maybe a little bit about your education background as you go through that.

EB: Ok. My degree was in Dietetics and Institution Management from the University of Georgia and I was working with the Cooperative Extension Service as an agent in Lee County down just north of Albany in South Georgia, and the person who was consultant with child nutrition programs at the time came by my office to see if she could get me to teach a Training in Depth course, and I assume that if I say Training in Depth that –

AH: Well, we’ve talked about it a little bit, but you can just –

EB: Well that was our program of training in Georgia; it was 30-hour courses –

AH: And at the time it was a voluntary program.

EB: Right, yes, yes. And so there was always a hunt for qualified teachers to teach those courses. They were taught through the vocational school, Vo Tech School –

AH: Because there weren’t many program directors around the state.

EB: Absolutely. I think maybe like forty in the whole state at that time, out of 180-something school districts. But she asked me about teaching a Training in Depth course because she heard that I was a dietitian, and then started to tell me that she was about to leave her job. She had resigned and was about to, and so that I should apply for her position. And so I did and the rest is history. So there I was for the next thirty-something years.

AH: Sort of stuck, huh? Well you did move around a little bit. You did have several jobs. Talk about the jobs that you had.

EB: I started out as area consultant in the southwest area of the state with about thirty school districts that I worked with down there. And as we said, there were really very few directors down there then. I could have a directors’ meeting and have it at my apartment. I did have a couple of them there and served dinner, because there were like eight or ten.

AH: About what year was that?

EB: I started in 1971, August of 1971. I started at Preview Conference, and Preview Conference is something that we did in Georgia every year at the start of the school year, and that was the first year that the Yellow Book had just come out.

AH: What was the Yellow Book?

EB: Oh, the Yellow Book caused more commotion and to-do than I think probably anything that ever happened in school nutrition in Georgia. Prior to that I believe that what managers were required to do was record their menus and maybe send them to the state periodically.

AH: They sent like a two-week sample every year, I know, to be analyzed.

EB: And so this Yellow Book was a management tool where they recorded every day’s menus and the amount that they were to serve of each item and there was room to cost the cost of the item, and most managers had never seen or heard of anything like that, and were just, just –

AH: Taken back.

EB: Yes, yes. My first visit to a school was to a principal who – this school system didn’t have a director. And he was the one who planned the menus, planned BEAUTIFUL MENUS, I can tell you. He planned the menus and he wanted me to come visit, but I figured out when I got there he wanted me to come so he could raise Cain about that blamed old Yellow Book, and he DID!

AH: Did you tell him to call Josephine Martin?

EB: I tried to explain to him that I was brand-new and I didn’t have anything to do with it, but he had the ear of somebody from the state and he took advantage of it. So that is what I remember from my earliest. And then being an area consultant for about five years, I moved out of state for a couple of years, and then when I came back the first thing I did was go to Dr. Martin and re-apply. I wanted to get back into school nutrition. Would you say that I was a glutton for punishment?

AH: Probably.

EB: But I loved it and enjoyed it so much, and that’s where my friends were and heart was, so then I started back and was a consultant in the Griffin office for about a year, and then moved into the position that I retired from, which was manager coordinator of the program for the state.

AH: Right, right. So you had a lot of responsibility. You were actually managing all those field offices around the state.

EB: Right. I had direct responsibility for about ten or twelve area consultants, differing numbers at differing times, and then other in the office. And then each of them had a secretary, and they were out in the area offices.

AH: I know that you want to talk about some of these people that were very special to all of us, and those were the other area consultants that had positions comparable to yours when you were area consultant. Talk a little bit about who they were and what it was like back then, because there were no directors, like you said – maybe forty around the whole state.

EB: Right.

AH: And so y’all really served principals, because they were de-centralized school districts wanting y’all really as their director, wanting you to do things that really a local director should do. Talk about some of those other area consultants, because most of them are not with us now, and we’d like to leave a memory of those people.

EB: When I started I replaced – well I guess they were original area consultants – and I wrote down their names because [points to her brain], Lucy Edwards is the one that I replaced, and Mrs. Edwards had been there since the inception of the program, and then she had retired, and the person that I followed was only there for a year, Helen Farris replaced Mrs. Edwards. She was just there for a year and then I followed her. Mrs. Lucy had southwest Georgia. Then there was Mildred Craig up in North Georgia, Katherine Turner up in northwest Georgia, Sarah Johnstone had the center of the state, and Sarah sort of functioned as Dr. Martin’s assistant, and then Frances Griffin was down in the southeast corner of the state, out in the Plainsboro office. Most of them were not married. Back then, and of course even now, there was a lot of travel involved, and it was not easy for a person who was married, or had children. In later years most everybody was married, but there was still a large proportion who did not have children because of having to travel so much. And the word is not ‘having to’, but traveling, and I always enjoyed traveling. That was one thing I enjoyed about the job, was being able to go different places and see things and touch different people, and just experience life and education in Georgia.


AH: What were those ladies like? I remember Katherine Turner. Katherine was my consultant when I was in Douglas County, and she’d scare the bejesus out of me when she came to check on my schools.

EB: Katherine had been a college professor in Alabama, I’m not sure exactly where.

AH: I know she had ties to Auburn, pretty strong ties to Auburn.

EB: And she had been in the military and Katherine was very serious about her work. I mean this was all very serious stuff, it was not foolishness, and just totally dedicated to the program and wanted to help people, just one of the most helpful people I’ve ever seen, worked with superintendents and with principals, and like you say, that was a big part of the job back then, where there was not a director, to be there for them and to help them develop standards and know what a program should look like, and know the things they shouldn’t do.

AH: That they shouldn’t do – she was good at telling you what you shouldn’t do. I remember having a school that every Friday they would not meet the meal pattern so when I knew she was coming out I tried to get her to come on Friday, because they would deliberately just have like hotdogs and ice cream and nothing else on Friday, so I would send her to that one school and she could jump on them and I wouldn’t have to. Now I remember Sarah Johnstone very well. I remember the others, but I remember Sarah Johnstone very well.

EB: Sarah was one – everybody always teased about how Sarah got everybody else to do her job, but Sarah was a master at delegation. I mean she got a lot of people involved in the program and doing things who never would have done it, and people who got recognition and who added a lot to the program, because Sarah was smart enough to see that they had potential, and bring them in to the program to make accomplishments. And Mildred Craig, Mildred was another one who was a single lady, and there again, totally dedicated to the program. And it was not until – Jeanette Thomas and I came into the program at the same time – and I think maybe we needed one more young person, and I guess maybe Clara Ruth Doran was the third one that came in, when we were able to outvote the older ones and serve chocolate milk in the schools.

AH: Because that was a no-no for years. I remember, and I told Josephine that the reason I have bad teeth now, is because she wouldn’t let the schools serve chocolate milk, and so I didn’t drink anything but flavored milk and buttermilk at home, and so when I went to school I would not drink white milk. I would go get orange juice out of a vending machine. So I blame all of my poor bone problems and teeth problems on Josephine. So y’all got that turned over.

EB: The three young ones were able to do that. But they were really serious about it, and back then one of the big arguments was, I think it’s oxalic acid in chocolate that ties up some of the calcium. You know, back then sugar was not really that big of a deal, and I can remember when the requirement went from two teaspoons of butter to only one teaspoon of butter, and fat was not a big deal back then of course, because I think the milk lobby was more effective and powerful than nutrition was.

AH: Than health lobbyists – those tables have turned a great deal. I remember the one big pat of butter that they would put on your plate, whether there was anything to put it on or not.

EB: That was part of the meal pattern. You had to put that pat of butter on there.

AH: This past week the comment closed on new meal pattern regulations, and I’m sure you’re not too sorry that you’re not having to comment on those, which is part of your job in the state, or to interpret those regulations when they come out. Tell us about some of the biggest program changes you saw through the years, because there were dozens, but is there any one particular thing that you can think of that was really difficult, or a challenge for you when you were in your position?

EB: One of them was the requirement for nutrient analysis, and nutrient-based meal planning, and I think that one probably still is a difficult thing to deal with. And the thought that you can somehow control what children take and what they won’t – and you can’t do that. You can sort of try and coerce I guess, but all you can do is market, and that was a real tough time, dealing with nutrient databases and going to computers. Every school needed a computer in the cafeteria, or access to one somewhere, and that was tough to do that.

AH: You will remember with me when Ellen Haas was Executive Director of Public Voice or whatever, before she became Undersecretary of Agriculture, where she was responsible for the nutrient-based menu planning, but I remember in the office we had an advertisement that appeared in one of the major newspapers across the country, it was a one-page advertisement about these people, meaning school nutrition people, are frying your children to death because of the fat, and I remember, you’ll remember, that we did in the office a Georgia poll where we solicited public opinion about the program, and after that was released and after Ellen had her campaign about dietary guidelines, or reducing fat specifically was her big thing, the public opinion of the nutritional value of the program just plummeted, so we’ve been struggling with that for a long time.

EB: It’s a real dichotomy and for parents I know it’s awfully tough. They want to do what’s best for their child, but so much of the time they’re caught between what the child wants, because they want the child to have what the child wants and want him to eat what he gets, and on the other hand most of what the child wants is not the healthiest food in the world. And I know it’s tough being a parent, and that was one of our real frustrations, always had been and I guess always will be.

AH: Well, you’ll be pleased to know, and I’m sure you haven’t been leisurely reading the proposed regulations on the new meal pattern, I don’t think that was probably on your agenda lately, but one of the things that was interesting in there is that they proposed to go back to a certain number of servings a week of orange or dark green vegetables, which is very close to the way menus were planned back in the ’70s, when I first started planning them.

EB: And I just read in the paper this week about the chocolate milk issue again, and bringing that up again.

AH: Oh, I haven’t even seen that.

EB: Yes. It was in the Florida Times Union yesterday I think. There’s some controversy about is it worth the sugar and the chocolate in the milk to get them to have the calcium, like you were saying. We didn’t drink milk. I didn’t drink milk either, because it didn’t taste good. I didn’t like it. I LOVE chocolate milk. I could drink it by the quart.

AH: I can name several things, but I’d like for you to tell me – what do you think has been your most significant contribution to the program? I know I can name a lot of things.

EB: Well, I guess when I think back on it, I had a real need for the Department of Education to be a supporter of school systems, and to be there for directors and to help them to get their job done. Not to criticize or beat ’em down, but to help them to function effectively and efficiently in their job to provide nutrition to children. And one of the areas that was always tough was politics – politics is in there – and being there with directors and helping them to understand that politics is a part of it. And politics is not necessarily a bad word. Back when superintendents were elected, if a superintendent didn’t do enough to get reelected, then she may lose a good superintendent. So sometimes they may have needed to do things that the director felt was not totally right down the line, or not THE best thing for nutrition, but needed to be done to keep an effective program going.

AH: I would say that just giving them that perspective was a tremendous accomplishment, because you see so many new people going into jobs, or going into a new job, and the first thing they want to do is just change everything and disagree with everything and that has caused a lot of potentially good directors to have lost their job or move on. That was a critical role that you played there. Tell me about what your typical day was when you were managing the school nutrition program in the Department of Education.

EB: Well, it was lots of time on the telephone with directors and sometimes principals, sometimes parents, with area consultants. A lot of that changes when we – and this tells how old I am – when we went from mailing something to being able to email. That was a big deal.

AH: That was a big deal.

EB: And it certainly made my job more interesting. It made me more effective, but it made it tougher because somebody would call and ask about where such and such a requirement is found – ‘Well, can you email that to me?’ First of all it was fax, ‘Can you fax it to me?” So you got to hunt it up and then you got to go to the fax machine and fax it, but they got an answer that they needed right then. And then when email came, ‘Can you email it to me?’ And then we worked toward criterion procedures and some processes so that they would have this information at hand and not have to call so often.

AH: But they still liked calling you! I think they called you to hear your jokes. The joke of the day is what they called Eugenia for. When they were having a hard time that’s what they would do. Tell me about other people that had influence on you while you were working, because I know you worked with a lot of people, local people, state people; then I want you to talk a little bit about the association.

EB: Ok. The two people that had the most important effect on me were Dr. Martin, because she was the one who introduced me to school nutrition, and her heart was always in the right place so far as children were concerned, and then don’t cover your face up, but you were the other person. You had the perfect philosophy of providing nutrition and doing it with integrity and with honesty straight forth, and I don’t think you ever put yourself ahead of anything for the program, and I saw in other instances where that was not necessarily always the case. It’s always easy to kind of slip that little ego in do something that kind of looks good for yourself, and you never did that. I’m sorry if it looks like I’m playing up to you –

AH: I’m not doing performance appraisals anymore!

EB: – but I’m telling the honest truth, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to tell you that and to tell other people that.

AH: I didn’t ask that to get that answer –

EB: I know it.

AH: – by any means, but I appreciate it and I think we all know how much Dr. Martin has been to the program here in Georgia, and nationally.

EB: Absolutely.

AH: This is something people need to know – you have served as president of the Georgia School Nutrition Association. You were the only person from the State Department of Education to ever be allowed to do so, and so tell us a little bit about what that was like and were there particular challenges you faced when you were president of the association.

EB: Let me explain the only reason that I was the only person allowed was that I was the first one, and then the department decided that that was not a real good role for a Department of Education person to do.

AH: Well, there were risks associated with it that we all knew going into it.

EB: Yes there were. And the association does a certain amount of lobbying, which is one of its functions, and in the department we need to be impartial and objective, and of course the department, for most of my tenure, was very supportive of school systems, and whatever school systems we supported, and we knew that we were free to do that. But still it could be somewhat of a Catch 22 with what was good for the association and what was good for school nutrition.

AH: And in the Department of Education every four years you were apt to have a total change of philosophy at the political level, the board or the superintendent’s level, which could influence how you would execute that job, so you were a one and only, and I wanted to make sure that’s in for the record. We laugh about some of our experiences with bosses that we’ve had, and I guess we’ve probably survived longer than most of those bosses. You remember when we started the Incentive Program to get school districts to bring on directors.

EB: Right.

AH: And we had the little pots of money for supervision, and we had a pot of money for training. A lot of the directors that came in under that incentive program are now retiring, so there are going to be a lot of vacancies out there, and I know one of your jobs was trying to encourage young people to come into the profession. What would you tell someone now to try to get them to join us in the child nutrition profession? How would you encourage them? What would you say to them that would encourage them to become involved?

EB: Well, it’s an opportunity to really have an effect on a child’s life for a lifetime. I look back at myself, and I planned menus I guess until I graduated from college in Dietetics, and maybe even since then, based on the menu at school. You know, I could remember we had meat, and we had usually a potato or starchy item, and a couple of vegetables, and bread, and milk, and to me that was a meal pattern, and I still carry that in my mind through all those years. That doesn’t mean that you’ll be successful with every child, but you have the opportunity to have some input there. And that’s one thing we did, I think, in Georgia that was notable, that we kept the focus on nutrition, that was always number one, and the Department of Education allowed us to do that, and the legislature supported that also. And the other thing I would say to somebody to encourage them in school nutrition is that you find more support among directors in this field than most other fields in food service.

AH: For each other.

EB: For each other, yes, because on numerous occasions I have had new directors who came from other fields say to me, “Everybody here is so supportive. All the directors want to help me. They want to share everything they’ve got, all their procedures, anything, good experiences they’ve had, they want to share and help me, whereas in the position I just left in another field, they don’t want to give you anything.”

AH: More competition in other areas rather than collaboration.

EB: Yes, and it just is a friendly, caring group.

AH: We’ve covered a lot. Is there anything else that you have thought of that you wanted to share?

EB: Annette, you did such a good job asking questions I think you covered everything.

AH: Well I want to thank you for traveling across the state from southwest Georgia to come down.

EB: Thank you.