Interviewee: Lou Simoneaux
Interviewer: Melba Hollingsworth
Date: January 27, 2009
Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Description: Lou Simoneaux spent twenty years traveling the world with her military family before returning to her home state of Louisiana and beginning a new career in school food service. She spent several years in the Panama Canal Zone and then moved to France. When her husband finally retired they returned to Lou’s hometown of Napoleonville, Louisiana, where she spent the next twenty-nine years providing healthy, nutritious meals to the children of Assumption Parish.
Melba Hollingsworth: I’m Melba Hollingsworth and today is Tuesday, January 27, 2009. We’re in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and I’m here with Mrs. Lou Simoneaux who used to be food service director in Assumption Parish, is that correct?
Lou Simoneaux: Right.
MH: So would you tell me a little bit about yourself and where you grew up?
LS: Well, I was born a long time ago in Napoleonville, Louisiana.
LS: And now I’m eighty-one years old.
LS: And I went to school in Napoleonville and of course we had no food service. We brought our lunch. My daddy was a sugarcane farmer and I was raised there. And I went to Spencer Business College in Baton Rouge, and I finished there in accounting. So it was always what I liked until I really met up with food service. And I worked in Baton Rouge for a good while in an insurance company until I got married in 1950 and moved back to Napoleonville and there I started to get different jobs. My husband was in the military; he is a twenty-year retiree. I got jobs in Napoleonville and after we got married, he was in the Canal Zone and I couldn’t go at the time, so I waited a few months before I joined him, but in that time I was working for the district attorney, and two lawyers, and after that I joined him in the Canal Zone. At that time I was working for a company that was taking the ships through the locks. The company offices were in Georgia. Later while we were still in the Canal Zone I worked in procurement. We moved to many, many places in twenty years. I worked in almost every place. The last two assignments were in France. I did manage to have three children along the way, and so we had one girl and two boys. So we travelled in many places. We would stay maybe for a year, maybe for three years. Finally, before my husband’s retirement, he had to go to Vietnam for a year. So that’s when I came home back to Napoleonville, always went back to Napoleonville. And I had a job there. And I was working with someone that was a food service supervisor and that’s when I really started to like child nutrition, because I had already had different jobs. I taught kindergarten for a year and I was there until I met up with my district supervisor.
MH: Do you remember what year that was when you started working for the child nutrition program?
LS: It was way back. And so I helped the supervisor for about a year, and then she retired. So when she retired they offered the job to me and I was really, really happy because I’d fallen in love with the child nutrition programs; of all the things I had done I really liked this. And so I did take the job and I worked the rest of the time on that job. I had some very good workers that helped me that she had trained.
MH: Do you remember how big the Assumption Parish School District was at the time?
LS: It was small. The cafeterias were joined, like two together, primary and middle. And I worked alone. I had no one to work with for years, and I did all the reports and everything by myself. Of course I stayed at the schools a lot; it took a lot of time. And then afterwards they divided the schools into a primary school and middle school. So I had like eight or ten schools.
LS: But I still worked alone, except for one man that worked with me to take out the commodities, but I had to go out with him and help him take the commodities off the truck, because we didn’t have very much help. And there I worked continuously until I got to the end and reached Social Security age.
MH: Well how many years were you there in Assumption?
LS: About twenty-eight, twenty-nine years.
MH: Twenty-nine years in Assumption Parish. So did it grow the entire time?
LS: Oh, yes, it did. It grew. It was never a very large parish, but it grew. It grew and the schools got larger and we had quite a few students.
MH: Was there a school breakfast program at the time?
LS: Not when I started, but as it grew we had breakfast programs; we had lunch and breakfast programs. And we had a number of employees, very good employees.
MH: Do you remember some of the ladies that were there?
LS: Oh, yes. We still have fundraisers. In fact, I’m going to a meeting tomorrow.
MH: Are there one or two that you remember?
LS: Yes. One of them is Carol Domagne that was very, very good. She’s still there; and my old friend Linda Boudreaux. Carol is still working, but Linda is retired. I just love them like they were my own; and a lot of others that I did work with. We were very, very close and I guess that’s what made the job so easy; they all helped me so much.
MH: Do you remember some of the favorite menus that the kids liked?
LS: Meat pie.
MH: Meat pie!
LS: Meat pie. I don’t know why the kids loved meat pie, but they did.
MH: How is that done?
LS: Well, it’s a ground beef mixture folded into a pie. They loved it and they still do. When you have meat pie, the ones that didn’t eat sometimes, they rush in to eat because they love meat pie. That was their favorite. And so it still is.
MH: Well do you recall another one?
LS: Oh, they loved their spaghetti and meatballs. They did like that a lot. They weren’t particular because my cooks were really all very good cooks and they all came in for lunch. They really did. I can’t come up with how many participated because that’s just not coming to my mind, but it was always large. We had a long line of children who came in. They loved the bread. We made our morning bread and they sort of miss that now because they don’t do some of those things now, and the children do miss it because some of them come up to me now and say, “Oh Miss Lou, we don’t get our bread like we used to.” They tell me some of the things that are different, and it makes me feel good about what we used to do. I guess I was sort of like one of their parents. I was very close to all the children.
MH: Did you ever serve jambalaya?
LS: Yes, they did serve jambalaya, but not that much. I think the children that are growing up now like it better than they did when they were little.
MH: Oh, yes?
LS: It was different.
MH: So when you went to school, you were at Spencer School, and that was in accounting in Baton Rouge?
LS: But I did go into everything that came up. I got certified by the state department.
MH: So you told us already how you got involved in the child nutrition program. There was a mentor there. What was her name?
LS: Lois Rodrague.
MH: Lois Rodrague?
LS: Yes. She was older, very much older. And I did everything, helped her, and did everything for her because she couldn’t leave her office at all. She was an elderly woman. She didn’t last too long after I started to work there. She retired shortly after.
MH: So you were the second food service director there in that parish?
LS: I guess so. I’m not positive, but she had been there a long time.
MH: So your position that you held, you were considered a food service director. Is that correct?
LS: That’s right.
MH: And I know that you feel like your educational background prepared you for this. Accounting is so important.
LS: Yes, it did. I had to do all my own accounting; I didn’t have any help until the last few years I was there. They did give me a secretary and she helped me. But she also worked for three of the other people, men in the office. So I didn’t have her all the time; she couldn’t do all of my work. I had to do a lot of it and it took a lot of my time away from the schools when I had to do it by myself. And like I said, I even took out commodities.
MH: Well is there anything unique from your state in regard to the child nutrition programs that you remember?
LS: Something funny?
MH: Yes, yes. Tell me.
LS: Well, like I said I had to take out commodities, unload them. I went out with the man that helped me and we had an open truck, an old open truck. They didn’t give food service very much. But it was an open truck and it started to rain, really rain hard. We had a lot of flour in that truck. So I just told him, “Well, we’ve got to do something. We’ve got to get out of this rain.” It had just started. God must’ve been there looking out for us because there was an old service station. So we pulled up under the service station and sat there till the rain stopped. The rain finally stopped and we continued delivering our commodities. It wasn’t an easy job and that didn’t happen very often because I didn’t go out when I knew it was going to be bad raining. We had an old truck. So it was really hard at that time.
MH: Yes, those commodities were heavy.
LS: Oh, my goodness. We had a thing that it came off the truck; not when we delivered, but when the delivery trucks came in to do it. We did and I just watched that it didn’t fall over the sides or something. I always helped them. I had some good workers in the warehouse and I worked in the warehouse for a good while and finally we built a new school board office and I did get a spot there.
MH: So your typical day in your career was more like what; you had to work mostly inside?
LS: Mostly inside, except for going back and forth to schools. The farthest one might have been about eight miles.
MH: So what were the biggest challenges you faced?
LS: It was the menus. I wasn’t used to that, you know, and not that it was hard or anything, but just to get them together. I’d find that sometimes I was just pulling my hair. I didn’t know really if I was doing things right or wrong. But as times went on I learned. I did attend a lot of the classes when they were offered. I made an effort to attend. But I really just fell into it. It looked like somebody was helping me – Mrs. Rodrague I guess. She was helping me, I guess, wherever she went. I always did like to work. I guess it just came to me.
MH: You made it happen.
LS: And I still help all these ladies. We have rice dressing sales, sales for their conventions. I went to the conventions as long as I could until for about the last two years. I don’t think I went the last two years, but I used to go to all of them, the state and national.
MH: Oh, really?
LS: Yeah. I did go to all of them and I learned so much from that, just doing all those things. I felt that if I went up to them I would get more out of them and it really helped me because I came back and I did a lot of things I didn’t know to do before. Like I said, I had to learn it from the ground.
MH: So the associations really helped with educational sessions?
LS: Yes they did.
MH: So what changes have you seen in the child nutrition profession over the years?
LS: Well, I don’t know. There’s some things that they’re doing that I feel like they should be doing something. It’s the children. I find that the children are a little bit different. They used to be pleased with anything that you gave them, but now they are so particular. They are not pleased as much as they used to be. I get some of them come to me and say, “Oh Miss Lou, it’s not like when you were there.” Now I don’t understand why or what is happening, but a lot of them…it’s a really small parish and you know all of them; you know everything about them and they know everything about you. And I moved around so much that I didn’t see how it was before, I mean I left and was gone for twenty years. So I didn’t see what was going on, you know, in the schools before and so I felt like everything I did was what was to be done and we were there a long time. So I find that children just don’t eat like they did back then.
MH: So what do you think is the most significant contribution that you’ve done to the field?
LS: My old workers, and the ones that are still there. I feel like they just love me because they just take me under their wing and if we go somewhere they take care of me. So I feel appreciated for what I did, because we are very, very close, and I’ve been out of it now for about twelve years.
MH: They still invite you?
LS: Everything they have I’m still invited to it. I work with them when they need help; not help in the cafeteria, because I couldn’t do that, but when they need help with everything else that they do, you know, we have food sales and stuff and I am right there with them as much as I can now.
MH: Wow. So do you have any more memorable stories that come to mind as you think back on your years in the profession?
LS: It was hard. I mean alone for years like I was, it was hard. I mean we moved so much; my old office moved from place to place and we were in a warehouse. The warehouse was, I think, the oldest place in the parish and still is, but it’s being used for other classes and also it’s been remodeled a little bit. But I remember taking one of my big pots and putting it under the dripping roof because it was raining in the office. So I just got a pot – a couple of those big pots and put them under the rain…under the water because it was an old building. The building has been, I can’t say remodeled because it’s still an old building, but I don’t think it’s leaking any more.
MH: Oh, my goodness. That is a memorable story.
MH: What advice would you give someone today who’s thinking about child nutrition as a profession?
LS: I think it’s great for any young person. I think that if I could get back to it, I would go back to it. I loved it and even though I worked for years as a stenographer or a secretary because that’s what I had to, I think it’s one of the best jobs that I have had, and I have had quite a few of them. And I think if I was to start over again, I would do the same thing. And the people I met, that was really…like this one here [referring to Melba] and more friends that I still have like Barbara Gautier. They were my good friends and still are my good friend. And I met people and I don’t think I ever would’ve, because I lived in a plantation, a small plantation and grew up on it. And if I stayed there I would not have met these people. This is one profession that I really like and as much as I loved bookkeeping – I still do – still if anybody would ask me for help in bookkeeping I would give it to them because I still like it. But food service, I think, is my priority. I would [encourage] anybody to do it. It’s fun and you get a lot of knowledge from it. I tell you, I didn’t think I would ever learn anything, but I did. There’s only one thing that I sometimes worry about – I don’t like to cook as much anymore. I really don’t. But I try everything. I try any recipe or anything that comes up, you know, and I always want to do something new. But I just don’t like to cook so much anymore. I do have three children. One of them is living close to me, and one lives in Houston, and the other in Thibodaux. So I do have a bunch of grandchildren and a bunch of great ones. So I’m always busy.
LS: I do have a big family.
MH: We thank you for coming Miss Lou. Lucille, right?
LS: Oh, no. My real name is Lucy.
LS: Lucy Rita. I don’t know where the Lucille came from, but when I went off to school and everything it was Lucille. I think the kids started that Miss Lou and I’m still known as Miss Lou. With all the young people I meet I’m Miss Lou. So I went with Miss Lou.
MH: Again we thank you for coming by. We appreciate all what you did in Ascension Parish.
LS: Assumption Parish.
MH: Assumption. Ascension and Assumption are neighbor parishes. Ascension and Assumption were right next to each other. So thank you. I really appreciate it.
LS: I’m glad that you invited me.