Interviewee: Hester Dye
Interviewer: Jeffrey Boyce
Date: July 23, 2008
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Description: Lifelong Arkansas resident Hester Dye is a very active member of her local, state, and national food service associations, and is a past recipient of the Louise Sublette Award. She is currently the Food Service Director in Brinkley, Arkansas. She credits Ernestine Camp’s mentoring as playing a vital role in the success of her nearly 40-year career in child nutrition.
Jeffrey Boyce: I’m Jeffrey Boyce and it is July 23, 2008. We are in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and I am here this morning with Ms. Hester Dye. Welcome Hester, and thanks for taking the time to tell your story to us today.
Hester Dye: Oh, I am thrilled to do it.
JB: Could we begin today by you telling us a little bit about yourself…where you were born and grew up?
HD: I was born in Arkansas…grew up in Arkansas…and still live in Arkansas.
JB: What part of Arkansas?
HD: Actually, in the Forrest City, Wynne area…in that area. So that is northeast.
JB: What is your earliest recollection of child nutrition programs?
HD: I started working in child nutrition in 1970.
JB: Wow, 1970.
HD: Yes. I went to apply to be a sub. I was little and I could get around. I never worked a day as a sub. They put me on full time the first day.
JB: In the cafeteria?
HD: In the cafeteria.
JB: What were you doing there first?
HD: I was overwhelmed by the big stuff that they did. But I learned real quick. So I went to making rolls, right? I loved working in the bakery. That was my favorite part.
JB: What made you decide to even apply for a job in child nutrition?
HD: My son. And I wanted to be at home when he was at home, so I’d be at home when there was no school and I would be home with him.
JB: And you started out making rolls, what else did you do there?
HD: I did everything. I made salads, just everything.
JB: Was there any particular person, a mentor perhaps, who kind of guided you in your career as it developed?
HD: As I got into child nutrition, I came to know who Ernestine Camp was. I call her my American Idol.
JB: She is a well-known figure in Arkansas and has done some wonderful work.
HD: She is. She is. She has inspired a lot of us.
JB: Is there anything unique about Arkansas regarding child nutrition programs?
HD: Well, I was instrumental in helping get the chapter formed in Forrest City and worked there 28 years and we had a very active chapter and …
JB: That would be the State Nutrition Association?
HD: State local chapter. By doing that, we got to travel some and then we would save all year to go to the national and the first one we went to was in Houston. And I won the Louise Sublette Award that year, three times in a row.
JB: Wow. Congratulations!
HD: And then after 28 years in Forrest City, the Director down the road in Brinkley, which is only 25 miles down I-40, called me and said she was going to retire so I got that job so now I am the Director in Brinkley.
JB: So you’re 38 years into your career?
HD: [Nods affirmatively.] I loved it instantly because the kids are so hungry for someone to smile at them, or say hi to them. It got to where so many wanted to hug you when we were out in the dining room, that I implemented the Lunch Buddy Program. And it was real popular.
JB: Tell us about that.
HD: I would go in the afternoon when I got off work around to all of the local businesses and hand out these little brochures that I had made up “Come have lunch and you will get more out of it than the child does.” People would say, “Well you don’t get paid for that.” and I said, “Well… not money I don’t.”, but every time I would take a child to meet his buddy…the buddies would come to me and I would take them to the classroom, introduce them to the teacher and then the teacher would call the child out that didn’t have an adult role model. You know, we’ve got a lot of those. They are in single family homes and there have been several times that this little fellow would just wrap his arm around the leg of the person and tears would just come into my eyes because they needed somebody. I would tell them “This is your special …your special person.” And then it got to where everybody wanted a lunch buddy.
JB: What a wonderful program. What are some of the major changes you have seen over the years in child nutrition?
HD: The major changes are expenses. [Laughs.] And you know, we are going into more whole grains. That is one of the major things; and the expense of it. And of course, when I went to Brinkley I didn’t know anybody, and that was a real big change for me. After I went to Brinkley in 2004, I was Arkansas State President of our ASFSA at that time. I wouldn’t take a million dollars for that experience because I got to go to Hawaii to Leadership that year. And then I’ve got to do so many things through ASFSA, now SNA, that I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to do.
JB: So there were rewards in addition to the financial compensation?
HD: Right. And I love the children and as a Director, I don’t have as much one on one with the kids. I miss that. I like to be in the classroom, involved in the classrooms with them… teaching Five a Day. I did that as one of my Louise Sublette Awards. I love the student involvement part of it, too.
JB: Are there any memorable stories that come to mind as you think back over your career?
HD: Well, all of us can tell the story about the children who don’t have their lunch money and you have to pay their lunch money, and we did that. And we had children, when I was working in Forrest City, that …we had a little boy that I can remember; he was homeless. He was in about the fifth grade. And we would always make sure, and I know this is illegal, but we always made sure we put extra food on that child’s tray because we knew he didn’t have anywhere to live.
JB: I think they’ll forgive you for that.
HD: [Laughter.] I think the good Lord will too, because we took care of that child.
JB: That’s what it is all about; anything else that you would like to add today?
HD: I guess that’s all. I just love what I do, and you know…you’ve got to love it to be in it this long. I tell my staff, “If you don’t love what you do, you’re in the wrong business…or if you don’t love kids, you’re in the wrong line of work. Don’t go to work just for the money because we don’t make much money. But, you’ve got to love what you do.” I guess that’s my story.
JB: Well, I think the State of Arkansas is lucky to have you. Thanks for being with us today.
HD: Well, thank you so much!