Interviewee: Marcelle Landry
Interviewer: Melba Hollingsworth
Description: Marcelle Landry, a proud native of the French Quarter, served for many years with the Louisiana Department of Education as Assistant Director, School Food Services, before joining the Archdiocese of New Orleans as Supervisor of School Food Services. Though now retired, Mrs. Landry is still very active with the Louisiana School Food Service Association, of which she is a past president.
Melba Hollingsworth: I am Melba Hollingsworth and I am here in New Orleans with Marcelle Landry. Marcelle, why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself and where you grew up?
Marcelle Landry: I grew up in the French Quarter and I went to the St. Louis Cathedral School there, and we only had seven grades. We lived with my grandparents, who spoke French, and my mother had to go out to work because my father died when I was seven weeks old. And so she went out to work and I was with my grandmother and grandfather all day long, so I just spoke French. And the priest used to come over to our house from the cathedral; he used to knock on our door and say, “Lenae, what are you having for supper tonight?” And he would ask if he could use our phone, and she knew she would have to put out one of our cracked dishes because he was going to eat at our house instead of going to the rectory to eat because he liked what she had better. And he used to do that pretty much; and one day he said, “You know she’s three and a half years old and she’s only speaking French.” And I would tell him, “I can speak English, I can speak English.” Of course my mother and my aunt spoke to me in English, but he said, “I think maybe she should have younger children that can understand her.” So she put me in school. He asked Mother Superior to take me into kindergarten; and I think I was three and a half. So I graduated from grammar school when I was twelve; I graduated from high school when I was sixteen. I went to Ursuline High School, and I went to Webster College in St. Louis. It’s Webster University now; it used to be a college for women, and the reason my mother let me go there was because it was Catholic, it was an all-girl school, and because I was only sixteen they thought maybe I should wait another year before coming. And I said “I’m not coming back up to St. Louis in another year. Let’s see what I can do here.” Because everyone else was like two or three years older than I.
MH: Do you recall what years you graduated?
ML: ’37, ’41, ’45. Because I still go to my reunions from college and from high school, and from grammar school.
MH: My goodness. And in ’45, I’ll be darn. And the child nutrition program started in ’46, you know.
ML: That’s right. But I didn’t know anything about that program. I really had no idea. And the reason I got into it was that a friend of mine’s husband worked with the public schools, and Miriam Harris, I don’t know if – that was way before your time – this was in about ’62 or ’63. And she was trying to do what Mary Eleanor Cole did in Baton Rouge. She wanted degreed people. And so a group from Orleans Parish Public Schools went to lunch and she was telling what she planned on doing, that she was going to start hiring people who had degrees. She said, “And in Nutrition I would like them to have a degree in Nutrition.” One said, “I have a friend who has a Master’s Degree in Nutrition.” And he said, “Maybe she would come to work.” So she called me and we talked. I had never worked since I started having children and I had three of them at the time. And she interviewed me and I found out I was pregnant. And the next year she called and I’m pregnant again. So…that was my last one. And I said, “As soon as I’m done having this one here, I think I’ll be finished.”
MH: So you had five children in all?
ML: Yeah, five children.
MH: Well, do you remember in the schools you went to, did they have a school lunch at the time?
ML: No, not one.
ML: I lived right around the corner from my school, so I walked for my lunch. But I do remember that some children – I have to laugh because the nuns told me this – many years later – that my grandmother used to fix sandwiches for some of the children because they didn’t have anything to eat at home. In the French Quarter, there wasn’t too many rich people that lived down there, you know. But my grandmother used to fix sandwiches for them, and once in a while the lady who later became my mother-in-law used to come to the school and would prepare a meal like red beans and rice and a salad and things like that. And then they served Cocs-Colas, and I was never allowed to drink soft drinks at all because I was so little at the time. And this one nun who saw me with the Coke in my hand made me drink milk. She said, “You need milk, you’re so little.” I was anemic and all that kind of stuff. But no, they didn’t have school lunch there. They did somewhat at Ursuline, but it wasn’t school lunch. You could get either a salad or potato chips or this, that, or the other.
MH: Well, tell me the names of some of those mentors that influenced you in child nutrition program? Maybe you can name a few of some of you mentors.
ML: After I went into the public schools, and I stayed there for about nine years, Ethel Ott, Nell Brouette – because they were in public schools…
MH: That’s before they became state directors.
ML: That’s right. Nell Brouette was at Gregory School. Let’s see, who else? I didn’t know her that well but Dorothy Bachman was a state person at the time. And Ronny Carrier was the Director in Baton Rouge; do you remember him? And his associate was Montero. And when Nell Broulette was called up to go to Baton Rouge, about a year or two later she called me and asked me if I wanted to come up to be interviewed. So I interviewed and I got the job. And so she was a great influence and she was such a wonderful person; did you know her?
MH: No, I didn’t.
ML: That was a wonderful person. And we have – I don’t know if they still have it, but we did – the Nell Broulette Award.
MH: That’s right, they still have it.
ML: They still have it? And the Louise Sublette Award.
MH: The Louise Sublette Award.
ML: I didn’t know Louise that well. I don’t know how I got her book, but she signed it for me. So those were the people that influenced me so much.
MH: So you took her school when she left? Nell Brouette.
ML: No, no, no.
MH: Or you went up to the state department?
ML: I went up to the state department. When she went up to the state department, she was there for two or three years. I worked in several schools in the public school system. John McDonner High School, Nichols School, Sherwood Forest School, and then that’s when I went on to the state department. I think it was from Nichols that I went to the state department.
MH: Now how long were you at the state department?
ML: I was there until ’73; pardon me, ’till ’78 because that’s when my husband died. I think I was there from ’73 to ’78. I was with Orleans Parish Public Schools for ten years, or for nine years, because at the time we had insurance, or retirement that was strictly Orleans Parish Public Schools and a lady that was in the office, she was Ethel Ott’s secretary, Oraline, she got us into the teachers’ retirement. So I was in teacher’s retirement for that nine years.
ML: I think I started in ’64; nine years was ’73, so ’73 to ’78 I was with the state department. And then I came with the Archdiocese and stayed until I was seventy years old, until it was 1992. I’m going to be eighty-four next month. And I was seventy when I left, so it was thirteen or fourteen years ago.
MH: That you left here?
MH: What was your title here?
ML: I was Assistant Director, in charge of personnel. Not the Human Resources personnel. As Mr. Sanderson used to always say, “I am terrible with people. I don’t want to be in charge of people. You can take care of people; I’ll take care of equipment. So that’s the way we lived. We got very involved with USDA. USDA loved to come to Louisiana. They used to say there was not a state that required what our state department required of us as school food service managers. I was a manager, but I was really a manager instructor – and when I went into school, my son was in seventh or eighth grade, or something like that, and I told him I was going to be teaching equipment and I had all the books. He said, “Did they have electricity when you started out?” I was ready to shoot him. He still gives me a bad time.
MH: What did you find unique about Louisiana? Tell me; in regard to child nutrition programs.
ML: Well, the only thing I can tell you is that our state department required so much more of us. For instance commodities; we knew every grain of commodity price that we would get and things like that. Whereas other places, they just received it from what USDA told them; it’s not like what it was here in Louisiana. And the supervisors were such good supervisors. And that was before my time as a supervisor. Now they would tell me about this, that the supervisors would go and they didn’t just write things down – you know, forget about it – they would write what was wrong and then they would tell them how to do it correctly. And I said, “Well, isn’t that what a supervisor is supposed to do?” But I noticed that in some of our schools, after I went into several of the schools, I had one lady that I hired, she’s not here any longer, but I told her I wanted to clone her, and I wanted to have like about a hundred of her. She was very fast about doing things and I’m very slow about everything, but when she would go in and tell them how to do something, she said, “Now I am really fast.” But she would…you could just tell she was just slowing herself down to show them exactly what they were supposed to do. She was so good.
MH: Do you remember her name?
ML: Oh, sure. She was here until a few years ago. Marlene Vogel. She was very, very good. Another one, the person that was here before I came, the only one that is left is Barbara. She was the nutritionist – oh, she was…
MH: Barbara Gautier?
ML: Barbara Parnell. And I really think that you should talk to her because she was here before I was, as a nutritionist, and she and I travelled a lot together. I really thought they were going to make her to take my place.
MH: Do you remember how many students were there at the time?
ML: Let’s see. No, I think, if I’m not mistaken, I’m trying to think of how many schools we had. Orleans Parish had over a hundred schools. And we had other Parishes. And then in these parishes there were some Lutheran schools that asked to get into our program and so we put them into the program. I have thank you letters from one or two of the Lutheran schools that we started their program. I have something…I think I have a picture of a group of us going to a teachers’ conference and that was at…I think it was Shreveport if I’m not mistaken and it was during the Thanksgiving holidays. And I had a man, a young boy that was a teacher at one of the schools here. Thomas E……..it was a public school. But he had called us to the office – this was when Ethel Ott was the Director – he called to the office and he said, “You know, these kids are coming in here with, they don’t have any money to begin with, but they’re coming in here with cokes and potato chips and that’s what they have for breakfast.” And he said, “It really worries me.” He said, “I really think these kids need something more than that.” He was also responsible for getting us a nutritionist. Well, no, I think the public schools had nutritionists. But he had her come into the school and they started the breakfast program at that school – in the public schools inside Orleans Parish. And then I took him up to one of these meetings and he talked to the teachers about putting breakfast in their programs. So it was very nice. I thought that he did a good job. Also…I don’t know if we were one of the first ones, but I have a letter from one of the people from USDA – She calls herself Annie Bananie – because I think we were one of the first ones that started – and I’m saying we – from Louisiana – we were the first ones to start the salad bars.
MH: Oh, really?
ML: Now prior to this, when I was at one of the public schools, and it was a high school, I remember hearing that one of the schools had a lunch salad bar. And I thought that sounds good. And it was at Warren Eastern School, so I went over to see it. It was a little plate full of lettuce and a little plate full of tomatoes and some dressings over here, so the kids could choose that if they wanted it. And it was at the time when if they ate the hot lunch they had to have everything on their plate, I mean you had certain things on it…and milk – that had to be taken. We didn’t have a choice. And this lady started with lettuce and tomatoes and salad dressing. And maybe she would have a little bit of ham for them to put in there, or something like that. So I thought that was a good idea. Then later on when I got to the state department, they asked me about the home salad bar.
MH: What were some of your challenges that you remember that you had to face? I’m interested in some of your challenges that were going on at the time.
ML: Well, when I first started working my biggest challenge was to impress upon our workers that when it was a commodity, you didn’t take it home, and some were like, “Well, it’s just commodity”, you know, and I was like, “Wait a minute. They can put you under the jail for taking commodities home.” But that was a challenge, because evidently before that they really weren’t aware of what commodities were and how we got them.
MH: And how we use them.
ML: …and how to use them. Another thing was to try and work them, because when I first started we used to have the pats of butter, and they gave each child one pat of butter. Well that got to be really a no-no, but trying to get the students not to beg for butter, you know, on that delicious, beautiful roll.
MH: Put that pat of butter on that roll.
ML: Oh, yeah. That was a challenge.
MH: Do you remember they used to come in a one-pound block?
ML: That’s right. There was a cutter and it would cut the whole slice at one time.
MH: Cut it into little pats.
MH: Remember those?
ML: I’ll tell you, though, as far as workers were concerned – most dedicated people I ever saw in my life – working for nothing. And we had a supervisor in the public schools, Evelyn Markelle, and she’d come over to the schools and she would check and see what everything was doing, but she’d get to know the people – the employees personally – and I had one young lady that didn’t have running water at her place, and she had children. So all they did was slept over there in this house and then she’d take her children every afternoon to get their meal from her mother’s house and Miss Markelle got this young lady a place in the projects, and she – I mean to think that you could stay home and take a bath at home and be preparing meals while the kids were dressing for bed, you know. She was just wonderful, Ellen Markelle- crazy, fun, full of the devil, but she was a real person.
MH: A hard worker.
ML: A hard worker; and she was a supervisor at the public schools. Yes, so that made a big difference to me.
MH: Those were your biggest challenges? Did you have to face any hurricanes or things of that sort?
ML: Well, yes. I got there – uh, let’s see – in ’64 and started the New Year in ’65, and everybody had left, because we used to work until three o’clock, and everybody had left, but I hadn’t gotten my meat for the next day. And so I was sitting there waiting, and I called the main office and Mrs. [Offius], who was the assistant director at the time. And she said, “What are you doing there? Don’t you know there’s a hurricane coming on?” I said, “No, I didn’t know anything about it.” She said, “Get yourself home right now!” She said, “It’s right on us!” That was Betsy.
ML: That was a challenge. And then it took us a while to get back from that, and I was living out in New Orleans East at the time, and my mother was still living in the house on Orleans Street, and my husband made the four younger children and I go to the French Quarter to my mother’s, because it’s the highest place.
ML: We didn’t get any water that year, but it took us a while to get back into the schools and things like that.
MH: And get them going again.
MH: So what changes have you seen in the child nutrition profession over the years?
ML: Well, over the years I’ve seen, more people come in – more degreed people come in. But as far as the lunch program is concerned where they had to take everything before, they only had to take three.
MH: The Offer vs. Serve?
ML: The Offer vs. Serve. That was the biggest change I think. And then being able to have a sandwich bar and a salad bar. And just recently I went to a school that just opened with the archdiocese in Goodbee, Louisiana. And I walked in there and I saw this salad bar, I thought oh, I can see – I almost had that lady’s name from Warren Eastern School -as I said, she had one of the tables from the cafeteria and she would put the lettuce and tomatoes there, and that was the salad bar. And then I saw this salad bar that was so magnificent in this brand new school, Archbishop Hannan School But equipment changes; we went from old-fashioned ovens to the confection ovens. That made a difference to us. The deep fryers; the steamers are so different than they were.
MH: They were so big, weren’t they?
ML: Oh, they were tremendous.
MH: What about the folks? Anything?
ML: As I said, I don’t think I’ve ever gone to a cafeteria where with the people in there weren’t dedicated. They were DEDICATED people. They weren’t only there just for their pay, they really cared for the children, and that’s right up my alley since I love children so much.
MH: So what do you think has been your most significant contribution to the field?
ML: Oh, I have no idea.
MH: Oh, your dedication?
ML: Well, I was president of the association.
MH: Right. What year were you president?
MH: Well, do you recall some memorable stories that come into your mind?
ML: I can’t take credit for the accomplishments of my term. The supervisors throughout the state and the managers and technicians worked so hard entering the program for the Gold Award and the Nell Broulette Award. And they did, they worked tirelessly to try to get those awards.
MH: Yes, they meant a lot.
ML: Coming to the workshops; they are responsible for any accomplishments that I may have achieved. ASFSA had a conference here during my tenure. All on the planning committee and everybody throughout the state came together and really made Louisiana host an outstanding show. Beverly Lowe was there as President. They could not get over Louisiana’s outstanding efforts. LSFSA always made such strong participation in legislative conferences in Washington, D. C. Our Louisiana senators and representatives, Republicans and Democrats, have always been supportive of child nutrition programs.
MH: This was the national conference that had happened here?
MH: Do you have other stories? You mentioned getting the young lady’s family in housing.
ML: I can’t remember stories of any individual people other than Miss Markelle. That just impressed me so much.
MH: What about children?
ML: There was something that I noticed in the schools about the children when I first started, and it seemed that the children were so nice and they moved very quietly when they came through the line. Later on, at another high school, they were like, wow, animals when they would come in. And in four or five years it had made so many changes. But you kind of got to know some of the kids, and of course they always wanted to work in the cafeteria, because they got the extra desserts and things like that, you know. So they always said, “Can I help today?” They had to know a whole list of things before they could start working.
ML: And how many people said oh no, they couldn’t work or they couldn’t work full-time? Then all of a sudden when their children would get into school, this was perfect for mothers. Seven o’clock, they had their children go off to school…three o’clock they could pick up their kids, you know; it was really…
ML: …convenient and everybody really liked it, but I noticed that a lot of the ladies didn’t just serve the meal, they served with such love in serving and working with the students. Even in the high schools when they would get rambunctious. One thing I can remember is when soy meat first came out. Oh my god! And they tried to tell us it was going to taste the same. I wouldn’t say that. The kids would say “It’s not the real meat, it’s soy meat.” And the teachers got on it; they would give us a real bad time. But that didn’t last for too long.
MH: Well, what advice would you give someone who is thinking about going into the child nutrition profession today?
ML: To make sure that you really love children. Oh, and regulations – that’s something that I could…when I retired, I said I was never going to fill out another form for the rest of my life, because USDA kept sending me all these forms for you to sign! And I…But just know that it’s going to be a beautiful feeling at the end of the day that you’ve done so much for the people. That’s what I liked. And I worked with such wonderful people. There was not anybody that was not just great.
MH: Well, Marcelle Landry, we thank you for coming.
ML: Well, I really appreciate it. I’m so sorry I didn’t have more. I tell you, I think some of my accomplishments were some of the people that were hired.
ML: Silvia Dunn.
MH: Oh yes. We’re hoping to get Sylvia Dunn.
ML: I just love her.
ML: Dedicated, dedicated people in those days. When Nell Brouette was still a manager she had a baker that was a fantastic baker, but she was so allergic to seafood, especially to shrimp, and you know we had seafood every Friday; it was always seafood. She could not even go near the kitchen at that time, so Nell would have her do many other things, maybe in the storeroom, or something like that to keep her on, but she was that allergic and she wouldn’t quit school lunch for anything.
MH: That is very…
ML: Dedicated, dedicated people in those days. I don’t know what they are today, because you know I’ve been out of it a long time. Fourteen years…I can’t believe it’s been fourteen years.
MH: Well, thank you again.