Interviewee: Judy Mumphrey
Interviewer: Jeffrey Boyce
Date: November 5, 2010
Description: Judy Mumphrey is a child nutrition program director in Mississippi.
Jeffrey Boyce: I’m Jeffrey Boyce, and it’s November 5, 2010. I’m at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi with Judy Mumphrey. Welcome Judy, and thanks for taking the time to talk with us today.
JB: Could we begin today by you telling us a little bit about yourself, where you were born and where you grew up?
JM: I was born in Tylertown, Mississippi, on June 9, 1949.
JB: And is that where you went to elementary school?
JM: Not in that town; I lived out in the country so it was in Sandy Hook.
JB: Was there a breakfast or a lunch program there where you went to school?
JM: Yes there was. I remember more about it when I was in higher elementary and high school. There was a school lunch program then.
JB: And did you participate?
JM: Yes, I did.
JB: What were some of your favorite menu items?
JM: You know, I remember them having – I think it’s because my mother did not cook this sort of thing – having the hotdogs cooked in a red sauce. I remember that, and I remember the spaghetti. My mother did not really cook spaghetti, and the spaghetti was another thing that I enjoyed getting there.
JB: That must be popular in south Mississippi. You’re the third person today mentioning the spaghetti. So, after high school where did you go to college?
JM: I went one year at Mississippi College in Clinton, and then I moved on to USM, where I finished my BS degree and my master’s degree.
JB: And what were those degrees in?
JM: Home Economics Education, and I taught school for eleven and a half years. And then I quit to start my family. I took a break for about three years and then I started back as School Foodservice Administrator in Pass Christian, and I worked there for a year. Then I got pregnant again and I quit at the end of that year. I had that child in September, and then the Administrator position became available in Bay-Waveland Schools, and they had approached me on that job, and I went and talked to the superintendent there, and I went ahead and took that job, even though I thought I wanted a little more time with my younger one, this was the opportune time for me to get back in the job in the Bay-Waveland area. And I stayed there the rest of my career.
JB: Let’s talk about your career. You said the first year was in Pass Christian, and your title was School Foodservice Administrator.
JM: It was.
JB: And what did you do in that position?
JM: When I went into that position it was so very new to me that I didn’t know what a quote was. I didn’t know what a bid was – a what? Well, they have these supervisors in the state that will come – and probably gave a little bit more time back then than they do now – to help you and to train you as to what a bid is, and how you have to advertise for a bid, and how you go about ordering the food, all of those things. Well, I had this supervisor, her name was Mildred Spitzer, and she spent hours and hours and hours with me, along with Mr. Lozano, the superintendent for Pass Christian Schools. He spent a lot of time with me. I felt like that whole, entire year I was going to school. I learned SO much.
JB: So they really mentored you into the position.
JM: Mentored me into the position. Mildred lived in the Waveland area and that’s where I lived. I would go over to her house at night after we had both worked all day and we would work all afternoon, into the night, and we did this for a long time, just learning about the job, getting into it. I would have had lots of problems without Mildred, because I was going into a position there where everything was not completely in order.
JB: Do you feel like your educational background helped you prepare for the career, or was it more on-the-job training?
JM: It was a lot of on-the-job training, but you do learn of lot of your skills in school – how to get along with people, how to talk to people, some of the business part. Even though I didn’t know about the bids, I had sort of an overall view of how it’s run like a business, so yes, it definitely helped.
JB: Were there any other mentors besides the two you mentioned who helped kind of guide your career or to help you along?
JM: Mr. Leroy Lozano was very instrumental in helping me along.
JB: He was the superintendent?
JM: He was the superintendent, and Mildred Switzer was very instrumental. And then, after I was there a year, learning so much; then I took off another whole year. Then I went back into foodservice, I went back under Dr. Roger O’jay, and he welcomed me with open arms, and he gave me a free rein to do what I felt like I needed to do. But I still needed some guidance, and I had some guidance from the state department. Along the lines of the budget I had Mr. Garland Cuevas; he helped me with the budget. I had some mentors through that, and about a year after that Mr. Robert McGee became superintendent, and he mentored me a lot.
JB: This was at Bay-Waveland?
JM: This was at Bay-Waveland. He pretty much gave me the opportunity to do the things that I wanted to do with foodservice there. And I did do a lot, because when I started there they were just plating the food and sending it down the line. There were no choices of any type of food. Everything was just plated and you paid for it when you got to the end of the line. They had rosters – pages and pages of rosters with names on it that they had to look up. And we started up with computers that year, so that was a real major move, going from hand-written, where you had to count the money every day, go around and collect all the money, then bring it to the secretary, the secretary counts all the money, then takes it to the bank. You can imagine all the time that was spent just on the money part there. And when we got to the computers, and got accountability in order, then we had the managers sign in with the banks, and they were able to take their own money, that had been accounted for by two or three people, and brought it to the bank, and we were just given receipts for it.
JB: What was your position title at Bay-Waveland?
JM: Food Service Administrator.
JB: That’s the same as Director in many places?
JM: It is, and actually it started out as Director. At Pass Christian I was the Foodservice Director, and even at Bay-Waveland I think it started out that way. But over a period of a few years it turned into Administrator and Foodservice Administrator – change of names, same responsibilities.
JB: What was a typical day like there at Bay-Waveland, or was there a typical day?
JM: Well, there probably wasn’t always a typical day, but I tried to go out to the schools certain days of the week, and to visit them, and to put my lab coat or my apron on and to cook with them. And I did that; I tried to get the food consistent in all the schools. At one time I even switched the managers about, and had them go into different schools and manage that school for a week, just to see how different schools were run. We had certain days that we all cooked. We had manager days when we cooked dishes together to follow the recipe, so that it came out consistently all the time. Through the period of years we reduced the time on marker orders. It took pages and pages of market orders – whereas when we finally got to where we were putting them in computers, they could do them on the computer, and I could see what they were doing; I could see what they were ordering, go over them and check them, and if something wasn’t ordered, or if they had ordered too much of one thing, then we could discuss that before the orders were ever placed; and then the secretary would place the orders that were put in. We usually did those orders weekly. Bids were a big, big part of our time – advertising for bids, getting the bids in, awarding the bids, getting those put on a market order to be sent out to them managers, and then those market orders sent back to us, us tallying everything – so you see how much time could be spent. Later on in years, when we got on the state contract, all of the bids and the quotes, all of the time that we had to spend getting a bid ready to go out, when we got on state contract we didn’t have to do that anymore. I was on the state committee for that for a couple of years, and that cut out a lot. It gave us better prices, it gave us better products, because it was a group of us instead of just one individual school.
JB: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced over your career?
JM: Well, the very biggest challenge that I faced was Katrina.
JB: I understand that was quite an ordeal.
JM: It was quite an ordeal. Katrina hit on the 29th of August , and we were out of school for forty days. We were at least as devastated, if not the most devastated, of any of the schools. I think our kids were out the longest instruction time of anyone, and we were forgiven for that time because – we had people that were homeless, we had people that were living in tents. I’m not sure how long we had all of the different volunteers down there – we still have some volunteers down there. There are certain areas in Waveland that you would think it had hit yesterday.
JM: The roads – construction – I remember when it hit they said it would be five years, and somebody said it would be ten years – No way, not ten years – but, yes, it will be ten years.
JB: Because it’s already been five, right?
JM: It’s already been five. That was the most devastating – I remember when the superintendent called us all in for our very first meeting. There were principals that were living out of their cars. There was some that had not even gotten back into the area. You could use phones, but you couldn’t always get everybody, you know. It was like you had to go stand on the Bay Bridge to make a call. It was – it was awful. It was just awful. When we did get back – it was five different schools – out of the five, I had approximately thirty employees. There was one person that still had their house of residency.
JM: Out of thirty people; all the rest of them had either lost everything, or they had gotten four, five feet of water in their house. Some of them lived without getting in their house – when I retired there were some that were still not back in their homes. They were in trailers.
JB: And that was a couple of years after Katrina?
JB: What about you personally? Did you lose your home?
JM: No, I did not. My house got some wind damage, but there was not even any water in my yard. So I felt very blesses, very lucky there, that I did have a home. No electricity, not much water. Water was kind of coming and going. In fact, as I told you earlier, my daughter got married there, and an hour before the wedding [there was no] water supply. I had all these people at my house and no bathrooms were functioning at that point. So the water was off and on. So it’s not like I didn’t have problems, but nothing to be compared to losing your home, or having water in your house. It was all the uncomfortable parts of no electricity, no water – the things that the city was dealing with. And I remember when we came back after the first day there were people walking the streets, because they thought they had their car on high ground, but it wasn’t. Police cars were flooded. Fire cars were flooded. All the people were walking because there were no vehicles that were not flooded. We went back that first day and met at the superintendent’s house, and most everyone was there. There were a few people that had not made it back yet. And like I said, there were several of those that were living in their cars. And then after that we continued meeting. We had these hut-type tents, and we met in those. [Not] a lot to be said for those, but it was a meeting place. All the other places were devastated. The only kitchen that I had functioning to any manner was the one at Second Street Elementary. It’s the one that the Red Cross had taken over, and they were working off of generators. They were using the things that could be used, but they had brought in a lot of their own things. It was a place where people had come to stay. So you can imagine how dirty, how everything was in such disarray. Every inch of that place was taken all the time. It was no more our kitchen, and our things. I remember after getting back I wanted to go and see if I could save the food, because it had only been a day, and when I got down to the place you couldn’t even get into the freezer part, you couldn’t even get close to it to open the door. So, no, anything that was not broken into earlier, we couldn’t get into to save anything, because things had floated up and pushed to the side – there was just no way to get to anything. Plus at some point it was just not safe.
JB: And you said it was over forty days before the schools were back up?
JM: It was forty days that the students were out of instruction time.
JB: And did you start feeding them again at that fortieth day?
JM: We started feeding them the first day. I will never forget this – someone had brought down – I can’t even remember where it came from – had brought down a truckload of Nutribars – all kinds of packages things.
JB: That didn’t require refrigeration?
JM: Did not require anything. I was working on that, but at that moment we had none. So the very first day of school, and now this is what the students had been eating – granola bars, anything that was not refrigerated – but because they had given it to us they wanted us to use it for a meal the first day. So we did use that for a meal for the first day. We used the canned juices and as much as we could to meet the meal requirements. I think we had some fresh fruit, we had some things. I remember it wasn’t what the students were expecting. Before school started I was trying to get some refrigerated trucks down there to hold some food, because we didn’t have anything to put anything in. We were just going off of nothing. So Merchant’s brought down two big refrigerated trucks, one put centrally for one area, and one put centrally for another area, and we worked out of those, and we got some electricity back. So I remember that our very first meal, and we applauded, it was just monumental when we put this barbequed hot sandwich out, and the students loved it as well. It was a hot meal, and they had not had any hot meals. They had these MREs at their homes I’m sure, but as far as a home-cooked meal, they had not had that, and they did have a hot barbeque sandwich that day, and we met meal requirements – from then on we did. It was difficult even at that point, because we had to get things to transport in. We were working out of two kitchens for five schools, so we had to get all of these insulted boxes to carry the food in, so that it was safe when it got to the students. There was so much you had to think of. You had to think the food’s got to be a certain temp when it’s carried over there. We didn’t know anything about this because we didn’t have to transport any food. We cooked at every kitchen. We had no satellites. So we had to completely learn another world of satelliting. And we satellited up until last year. They were all in new kitchens this year. It took five years and they reduced it down to four schools, so they are in all four kitchens now. But up until then we were working out of two kitchens; one was going to two elementary schools and one was going to the high school. It was double the work on everybody. The managers and the workers – they just were super. We had two or three people that did not come back, but most of them came back and they were working when they were not even in their own house. There were some still living in tents that first year. They eventually got out of it, but they were coming to work from those circumstances. And yes, I would say that was the most monumental thing I have ever has to overcome. We eventually got cars donated to us – we got vans donated to us. And the schools – the superintendent and the financial manager [Goran Kravis], they did everything they could to make it right for us, because they knew that we were trying to feed the students and they wanted us to have the transportation that we needed that would get the food to the schools as safely as possible. So we ended up with vans and good, insulated carrying [materials]. We eventually ended up with the lifts that would lift the materials up into the vans, but in the beginning we had to lift everything. We even had this linen truck that had a big lift – we used that for a while. Whatever we could get we used. We had people in contact with us all the time asking us what we needed. We had some equipment donated to us. I contacted one of the milk suppliers and they donated milk boxes, so we had milk at all of the schools. They donated all of the milk boxes to us. We eventually had some equipment donated to us – steam tables, and solid tables, reach-in refrigerators, and warmers, so that when the food got there we could put it in the warmers. So we did have some things donated to us, because we didn’t have anything. And then what do you do when the kids come through? Before it was free, reduced, or pay, according to your number. You had a four-digit number. Well, at that time the state declared everyone free, so everyone was free for a certain amount of time. And then when that time was up we had to show how many were homeless, or how many were still free, and we had so many that were still homeless that we got under and got the program free for the next two or three years. So up until the beginning of this year ours were free, as they should have been, because the devastation was there. Some of them are just getting back into their homes. It doesn’t seem like it would take that long, but it has, it had taken that long. So the state was good on that account, and the federal government was good to us to allow us that time, because it didn’t really matter how much money you were making in our community. It didn’t matter if you were making $200,000. You were not in your home. It was as devastating for that person as it was for a person living on a lot less. Everybody became humble at that point.
JB: What would you say has been your most significant contribution, or your proudest moment of your career?
JM: You know, when we talk about the students – the students are what it’s all about. You can be involved in as many other things as you want, but when the students come through the line and they are praising the food that you have, and they are singing, making a chant song out of something that you had on menu, that gets to your heart. That makes you feel good. That makes you feel like it’s worthwhile. There was a class reunion, it was the Class of 2000 that had a class reunion this past year, and they called and asked me to make one of the things that we had on menu, it was a peanut butter chew at the time in our the state book. And they called and asked me to make that for them. They were thrilled that I made that for them. They were also the class that I remember going through the line and just chanting certain things that they liked; it was the chicken pot pie, and just several of their favorites, and you knew that they liked it, that they enjoyed it. Along with that was when I got into – Bay High was offering choices. they got to pick up those things that they liked, and if they picked it up they were going to eat it. Those were some of the highlights of the student relationship with me, that they enjoyed coming into school lunch, and they enjoyed eating the meals. We placed such big importance on tasty, but nutritious food. We wanted it to be healthy for them, but we wanted it also to taste good, and I think we accomplished that. I think all of our schools accomplished that. We had teachers that were very involved in eating in the cafeteria, and the principals and all of the staff enjoyed our food, so that was quite an accomplishment to me.
JB: What advice would you give someone today who’s considering child nutrition as a profession?
JM: Someone that goes into it [must go in] with the enthusiasm and the energy that it takes, and it does take a lot of energy, to be able to offer good, nutritious meals that are tasty, and to make sure your students are excited about coming to eat the meals that are provided by school food service.
JB: Anything else you’d like to add?
JM: I’m retired now and I love it, but I do miss the people, and I do miss all the employees that I worked with. They were a wonderful group of people, and you probably didn’t know how good they were until they came back after Katrina, and all the work that they put in. Thank you.
JB: Thanks for sharing your time with us today.