Interviewee: Frances Self
Date: July 23, 2008
Location: Philadelphia Pennsylvania
Description: Frances L. Self was asked to “sub” for a few weeks in the cafeteria of Dickson County Tennessee Schools back in 1973. She is still there, and has been Manager for the last thirty-two years. She credits her ability to adapt and her dedication to lifelong learning as keys to her success.
Jeffrey Boyce: I’m Jeffrey Boyce and the date is July 23, 2008. I’m here in Philadelphia Pennsylvania at SNA’s Annual Conference with Ms. Frances Self. Welcome Frances. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today.
Frances Self: Thank you.
JB: Could we begin by you telling me a little about yourself, where you were born and grew up?
FS: I was born and raised in Montgomery County, Tennessee. I married a man from Dickson County, which is the adjoining county, and we live on his family’s farm. It has been in his family for over 100 years.
JB: Oh my goodness! What type of farm is it?
FS: It’s just a regular Tennessee farm. We have a few cows, tobacco.
JB: You grow tobacco, okay. What is your earliest recollection of child nutrition programs?
FS: Well my earliest is when I was in school.
JB: There was a school lunch program?
FS: Not when I first started to school. I went to a school in Clarksville that had a lunch program. But then, my mother died and I moved to the country with my grandparents, and they did not have one. We carried our lunch. We had to carry our spoon, bowl, glass, the whole thing. The lady cooked the lunch there in the school. We’d go by the kitchen and she’d put in on our plates. But when I first started, we had to carry it.
JB: What was a typical lunch like when you first started having a school lunch?
FS: One that stands out and I guess it was because, you know, it was fried perch fish, creamed potatoes, green peas, slaw.
JB: Was it locally caught fish?
FS: No, it was bought.
JB: Okay. How did you become involved in child nutrition as a profession?
FS: Well, I was asked to sub in the cafeteria for a few weeks until the lady who was the Manager got over two broken arms, and that part-time job has turned into 38.
JB: Thirty eight years? Oh my goodness! So that was about 1970?
JB: Okay. What sort of educational background or training did you have to prepare you for school nutrition?
FS: Well I graduated from high school and I have one year of college. And Phyllis Hodges was our supervisor at the time, and we took classes, graduated from team classes. A lot of hours.
JB: Was this a local or a state program?
FS: It was a state program.
JB: Okay. Is there anything unique about Tennessee in regards to child nutrition?
FS: Well, I think Tennessee is on track with the rest of the nation.
JB: So you are busy training and staying up to date with all of the regulations?
FS: We have training once a month, yearly conferences where we get a lot of information, the conference here. It’s great. There are a lot of things that go on here that are not at our Tennessee conference, plus networking with people from all over the United States. That is what is so good about it.
JB: So you have a broad network by attending these annual conferences?
FS: [Nods affirmatively.]
JB: Has there been someone special, a mentor perhaps, someone who helped guide you as you developed through your career?
FS: Phyllis Hodges.
JB: Tell us about Phyllis.
FS: Well, Phyllis was not only a boss, Phyllis was a friend. She was a friend first, then a boss. And the unique thing about it was that I had her children at the school that I was Manager at. I could not do anything wrong or Beth would go home and tell her.
JB and FS: [Laughter.]
FS: And her son, you learned Phillip really well and right off the bat, “Don’t put anything on my hamburger.” [Laughs.]
JB: Kids do have their preferences, don’t they?
FS: That’s right.
JB: What are some of the changes you have seen over the years as you have developed in your career?
FS: Mostly in regulations, nutritional standards have really gone up with cutting the salt, the fat, the sugar, more fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, leaner cuts of meat, that type stuff, which that’s all for the better.
JB: What’s a typical day like for you now?
FS: I usually get to school at about ten after six. I do breakfast, usually by myself, up until this year I have. We feed about 125 to 130 a day. I’m a small school. And it starts with getting everything on and up to running, breakfast. Serving them. Cleaning up. Turning around and starting lunch. We have three lunch periods and our first one starts at 10:30.
JB: That’s an early lunch.
FS: And I am usually there until 4:30 to 5:00 in the evening.
JB: That’s a long day.
FS: Yes. But part of that is my choice. I’d rather do my reports and stuff after everybody leaves so nobody bothers me.
JB: A little quiet time?
FS: My quiet time.
JB: You are a Manger now. You started out as a part-time worker?
FS: I started out as just a part-time worker.
JB: You advanced from there as a full-time worker? How long have you been a Manager?
FS: Probably 32 of those years.
JB: Oh, so you’ve got quite a few years.
FS: I drove a school bus for 18 years during that time, too.
JB: You are a multi-tasker I think! What would you consider your most significant contribution to the field?
FS: I think that I am willing to change. I am adaptable to change. Phyllis would ask me, “Will you try this?”, and I would say, “Yeah, we’ll try it, and if it don’t work, I’ll tell you.” And most of the times, it did work.
JB: What would you tell someone today who is thinking of going into child nutrition as a profession?
FS: Get all of the education you can. Learn everything and don’t close your mind to learning today what tomorrow is going to be for you.
JB: That’s good advice. Do you have any memorable stories, a special child, a special incident that has happened?
FS: We had one special child; it was a special needs child that his special education teacher was working with him, trying to get him to talk. He just wanted to point at things. She told us, “Don’t put anything on his tray until he talks.” This was a test that he had to pass before she could advance him in the class. It was kind of hard to do because he was a special child. He had the most beautiful smile you ever saw in your life. And it was hard to tell him, “You have to tell me what you want.” And “ketchup” was the one thing he had such a time learning. He loved ketchup on everything that he ate. I would just ignore him until he told me, and we had to keep it back so he couldn’t just pick it up. And I would just send him on down the line with his tray, and he’d get down to the end of the line and he’d look back and he’d just jabber, jabber, jabber. You know, he’d point, and finally one day, he picked that tray up and walked back up through there like this and said, “Cat chup! Cat chup!” That was good enough for me.
JB: [ Laughs.] Anything else you’d like to add today?
FS: Well, we all have special children; special needs. But every child that comes through that line is special. My children, my grandchildren, have been through that same school. And we have a little boy now that I said, one day, will be president. The child is from a very poverty-stricken family. But that mother sends those kids to school just as clean, I mean, their clothes are not the best, but they are clean. They have the best manners. This child never comes through the line that he does not say “please” and “thank you.” He always comes back and says, “That was a good lunch.” And he has a personality that is out of this world. I said if anybody will be president, he will be president one day.
JB: Well, thanks so much for talking with us today.
FS: Thank you. I enjoyed it.