Description: Marilyn Rylie was born in Ohio and grew up in Wisconsin before settling in Arkansas. She is currently the food service director in Sheridan, Arkansas. Another firm believer in the value of training, she also credits Ms. Ernestine Camp as an invaluable asset to her career development.
Jeffrey Boyce: I’m Jeffrey Boyce and it is July 23, 2008, and I am here in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with Marilyn Rylie. Welcome Marilyn, and thanks for taking the time to share your story with me today.
Marilyn Rylie: Thank you!
JB: Can we begin today by you telling me a little bit about yourself, where you were born and raised?
MR: I was born in Hicksville, Ohio. And then from Ohio, we moved to Wisconsin. My father was a foreman out on the cranberry marshes in Wisconsin, and we had a big dairy farm. And from Wisconsin then we moved to Arkansas. And the first place we lived in Arkansas was Ozark, Arkansas. My father attended the Bible Institute there at Ozark. And I can remember in Wisconsin attending school in a one-room schoolhouse.
JB: Wow. Was there a lunch program in that one-room schoolhouse?
MR: No, we brought our lunch.
JB: So how old were you when you moved first from Wisconsin? Did you start school in Wisconsin?
MR: In Wisconsin.
JB: And then?
MR: And then I attended school in Ozark, Arkansas.
JB: Was there a lunch program there?
MR: No, I can remember vaguely, I can remember bringing my lunch, my mother fixing sandwiches. We brought our lunch to school.
JB: Okay, so what is your earliest recollection then of school lunch? Did you ever have school lunch when you were going to school?
MR: Oh yes. My recollection was probably, I’d say, back in the fourth, fifth, sixth grades. That is when the cafeteria ladies prepared our meals. We got our milk out of the glass bottles.
JB: Oh really? What were some of your favorite dishes from those early meals? What types of lunches were they serving?
MR: I can remember fried chicken and of course rolls. And we still make the rolls today.
JB: You still make them today?
MR: We still make rolls from scratch today. The district where I am the director, we do a lot of scratch cooking. We make our own cinnamon rolls. We make hot rolls. We make chili and we make lasagna from scratch.
JB: How wonderful.
JB: How did you become involved in child nutrition as a profession?
MR: As a profession, well I was blessed, right after my husband and I got married I got to stay home with my children. I have three girls and a boy and my husband was a believer that, of course, the man was the head of the household and he provided for his family. So, I got to stay home with my children until my children got in school. And my youngest daughter, she kept coming home in the evenings and she would say, “Mom, you ought to go sub in the cafeteria. They really need workers. They are shorthanded.” So when I went to put in my application I really did it because of her. So I could tell her, “Okay, I put in my application.” And so I went and put my application in one day, and the very next morning before 8:00 I got a phone call.
JB: Wow, the next day.
JB: What sort of education or training, if any, did you have before going to work in the cafeteria?
MR: Just cooking at home and for my family.
JB: So then, by now, being a director, I assume you have had quite a bit of training in the ensuing years.
MR: Yes. And my husband has been very supportive of me going to school.
JB: Did you do the training in Arkansas?
MR: Yes, I did.
JB: What is that program like?
MR: Well, when I went to Managers School, which was – I would say 23 years ago, but before that we had a program that would certify cafeteria workers. We would get certification in being a cafeteria worker. And at that time the only way we could get a raise was to take the training. It was a three-year course in order to be certified as a cafeteria worker. So, I had three years there.
JB: Could you do this in the summer; was this year round?
MR: Yes, in the summertime. And our district sponsored that. We had several different school districts, the smaller school districts came to our district and we all kind of just schooled together there to get our training in.
JB: So that way you became a certified cafeteria worker.
JB: So then what was Managers School?
MR: We went to UCA, the University of Central Arkansas. And this was in the summertime and at that time it was three years; well, actually four years, because you went to school three years and then you worked the fourth year. Then at the end of the fourth year the food service director evaluated you, turned the evaluation into the state department and they looked it over to see if you were worthy to become a certified cafeteria manager.
JB: How long were these summer programs?
MR: The summer programs, I was trying to remember. The summer programs were two weeks for three consecutive summers. And we stayed, when I started out, I stayed at the dormitory there at UCA.
JB: Okay. Is there a certified directors school?
MR: Yes there is. In the state of Arkansas there is a certified directors school.
JB: What does that involve?
MR: Well, we laid the foundation, because my first year, or my year to attend director’s certification was the first year we had that. And we went for two, I believe, two weeks, three weeks and then we had to be evaluated. And during the first year we had to do three major projects out of five in order to get our director’s certification that fall at the state conference.
JB: It sounds like Arkansas is very big on training.
MR: Yes they are. We all encourage all of our ladies in training.
JB: Has there been anyone special through the years that has helped guide your career path as you developed in the profession?
MR: I want to say Ms. Ernestine Camp.
JB: Ms. Camp is a famous figure in Arkansas.
MR: Yes she is. Yes. When I went to manager’s training she was one of my teachers.
MR: Every day she would put a “thought for the day” on the board. I still have the “thought for the day”s she wrote on blackboard because I would write them down every day to take them and I still have got all my information.
JB: Any particular one that sticks out in your mind?
MR: No. The only thing that I have tried to instill in my staff is to always remember that the students are the customers and to treat them like you want to be treated. And to always smile at them because smiles are free and you may be the only person who smiles at one of the students when they are having a bad day. And who knows? We never know what the backgrounds are that the students are coming from.
JB: That’s a good thought to pass along. Could you tell us a little bit about the different positions you held? What was a typical day like, first maybe, as a manager and then as a director?
MR: As a manager? Oh, let me tell you, my first experience, I can go back all the way to my first day as subbing as a substitute in the cafeteria. At the end of the day I really didn’t know if I wanted to come back or not because one of the ladies, she told me, they didn’t show me, they told me what I needed to do. So I went over there and I thought, “All right, no problem.” I did what they wanted. I thought, “Whew, okay, I got that done”, and went on to something else. And then the very same lady came back and said, “Oh no, I forgot to tell you…” because I was doing cheese sticks. That was what I was doing. She said, “No, I forgot to tell you, you’ve got to make sticks out of these slices of cheese.” I had to go back and get all of the pans out and make sticks out of the cheese. By the end of the day I thought, “Ugh, I don’t know if I ever want to come back here or not.” But I did and I am thankful that I did. My first day on manager’s job my supervisor at the time sent me to a school to manage which was the junior high school. I had never worked with any of these ladies before. So when I walked in the back door I was just fresh out of school, out of manager’s training. And I walked in that back door and I had the responsibility of all of these ladies in there and I also introduced the salad bar to that school at that time. And boy, I look back now and wonder how I ever managed it. But the Good Lord saw me through. (Laughs).
JB: And what is it like being director? What are your major responsibilities now?
MR: My major responsibility. It is kind of basically like the manager. Only I have seven cafeterias, so it would be seven times greater than what I did. I still like to get out and do hands-on. I like to get out and work in different cafeterias, which I do. I go to a cafeteria every single day.
JB: Wow, good for you.
MR: I try. I try to be a very personable director. I know what it was like to be a cafeteria worker. I also know what it was like to be a cafeteria manager. There are days that they need support.
JB: What are some of the biggest changes you have seen over the years in child nutrition?
MR: Some of the biggest changes were the items in the a-la-carte line that we were able to sell. Taking away the salt and pepper shakers off of the tables; going from a lot of fried foods to baked foods. You know, we Southerners, we like to fry everything.
JB: Fried everything, exactly.
MR: And the sanitation. We have stricter rules. All of that is for the better.
JB: What would you consider your biggest contribution to the field?
MR: My biggest contribution to the field? My biggest contribution would be to be always available to my cafeteria managers and to my cafeteria staff and to the administrators at the school.
JB: Any memorable stories that come to mind as you think back over your career?
MR: Yes. You know, like I said, I was the manager at the junior high level and you know those are the transition years. They come in as babies and you see them leave as young adults. And the one most memorable story that stands out in my mind was every morning we would see this young man stand outside our cafeteria doors. And in the cold of winter, some days he would have shorts on. Some days he would have blue jeans on. He never had long sleeves of any kind. And so we were really concerned about this young man. We got to talking to him. We went to the counselor. The counselor talked to him, and come to find out, this young man came from a family where he only had one pair of blue jeans and one pair of shorts. And his mother washed the blue jeans by hand; they had no dryer. So they would hang their blue jeans on the back of a chair or somewhere next to the heater. And the next morning, if the blue jeans weren’t dry, he had to wear shorts to school. And there were several children in that family and they couldn’t buy four long sleeved shirts, or sweaters, or jackets. And so we found that out, and needless to say, my ladies, my crew and me, we got together, we cleaned out closets. We collected money and went to the store and bought this family coats and sweaters and blue jeans and socks.
JB: What a wonderful story. Any advice that you would give someone today who was considering child nutrition as a profession?
MR: Yes. Go into it with your heart and not for the pay. You have to have a special place in your heart for the young people. Not just for the pay. The rewards are not in the paycheck. The rewards are in your heart.
JB: Anything else that you would like to add today?
MR: No, other than I love my job!
JB: Well, thank you so much for sharing your story with me.
MR: Thank you!