Interviewee: Nina Cross

Interviewer: Melba Hollingsworth

Date: Dec. 15, 2009

Location: National Food Service Management Institute 

Description: Nina Cross worked as Louisiana State University as a professor, director of internships, and Chair of the Human Ecology Department.

Melba Hollingsworth: Today is December 15th, 2009 and I am here with Dr. Evangelina Cross or we call you Nina Cross.

Nina Cross: Yes, Nina.

MH: Would you tell me just a little bit about yourself and where you grew up.

NC: I grew up in Hamlin, Louisiana where I lived and was raised my entire life on the LSU experiment station because my father was with the LSU Accenture and so that’s where I grew up. And I went to school in Texas and ended up being a dietician in food service.

MH: Well, what is your earliest recollection of the child nutrition program? Was there a school breakfast or lunch at your school?

NC: Often when I am doing presentations I will tell the group that I am probably the only person in here that was there when the school lunch program began. And I was [because] I can very well remember that I was down I guess it was about the second grade when we started our lunch program there and we got little paper tickets that were mimeographed off. At first they were free and then later they were six cents. And so I can also remember when it went up to ten cents and I took a big fifty cents to school. The home economics teacher was the one who ran the school cafeteria.

MH: What were some of your favorite menus?

NC: I remember two in particular. I loved it when they had red beans and rice and that was certainly a Louisiana dish.

MH: Was it served on Monday?

NC: I don’t know and can’t remember if it was served on Monday but that was one that was served fairly often as was my favorite. My second favorite was the peanut butter and jelly. It much have been commodity because it came in big giant cans but it was already mixed together and I thought that was so wonderful. [Laughter] Who knows why?

MH: Well, how did you become involved in the child nutrition program?

NC: Well, actually it wasn’t until I got into the graduate program and my major professor was very involved with the child nutrition program and doing research in that area.

MH: Who was that?

NC: That was Dr. Carol Shanklin. We were at Texas Women’s University in Denton. And I worked with a wonderful woman named Melba Jean Ryan who was a retired director from the area and that was my entire research when I was getting my Ph.D in school nutrition and from then on of course I was very interested and continued to do research in it and worked with students in that way.

MH: I see, and now that you have mentioned it, please give me a little bit more of the educational backgrounds and what schools did you attend and about your degrees.

NC: Ok! I got my undergraduate degree at Texas Woman’s University. I went there the first year they changed the name from Texas State College for Women. And then my husband was a career in Air Force and so we moved around a lot but I did find a way to go back to school. The first year that he got back from Vietnam I really wanted to go back to school and I will be honest, it was really to get out of the house. [Laughter] I had been home a year with three little children so I did that in Oklahoma and then I was working in a hospital in food service in Illinois and I decided that I needed some management so I went and got a Master’s in Management from a program there. And then I eventually decided that I wanted to teach at the University level which meant that I needed to go back to school again and I got my Ph.D back at Texas Woman’s University with Dr. Carol Shanklin.

MH: This is in Denton, Texas?

NC: Yes, Denton, Texas.

MH: Did your educational background help to prepare you for a career in child nutrition?

NC: Oh, absolutely! Absolutely! I got all of the basic information that I needed and through my research, contacts, and working with people in child nutrition that added all of the extras.

MH: So, the mentors that you mentioned were Dr. Carol Shanklin and

NC: Melba Jean Ryan

MH: Well, can you think of any other people?

NC: They were two big influences. The first job that I got when I got out of my graduate training was to go to Baton Rouge to Louisiana State University as a Professor there and certainly Nadine Mann and you yourself were there [pointing to Melba Hollingsworth] I worked with you all and that was a wonderful way to get involved and get me into the community. I also did some work with a [girl] named Vivian Despit. I don’t think that’s her name now, it’s changed but yeah I enjoyed working with her and her school district too.

MH: Yes, I believe that she was in New Rhodes.

NC: Yes, she was.

MH: So, tell me about other positions that you have held. I mean, here you were at LSU

NC: That’s what I did, I taught in general all of the management courses but one other thing that I did was that I was the director of the internships there. The dietetic internships which was a wonderful opportunity to get out and then as I would go around and check on my intern in various facilities that would give me an opportunity to meet the people that were working. We always had a good strong and long rotation in the child nutrition program and that was usually the favorite of the students to be able to go there and do that.

MH: What other positions did you hold at LSU?

NC: Well basically that was it. The last two years I served as the interim director as they were searching for a new director and I took it with the stipulation that I was strictly more or less holding the place. I either wanted to go back to the classroom or retire after I finished that and I ended up retiring after I did that. It was a good experience but to be honest I preferred the classroom.

MH: So you were kind of the chair of the program at LSU?

NC: Yes.

MH: Is that what they call human ecology?

NC: Yes.

MH: And when they changed the name?

NC: No, no, no they did that before I even got there. It was in those years across the nation when everyone was changing from Home Economics which is all the same.

MH: Is there anything unique in your state now in regard to the child nutrition programs do you remember?

NC: I just remember that I thought that the people there, well also across the nation, were very dedicated. I also had the pleasure of working with a lot of my former students. Its really fun to see this young professional walking towards you and realize that it was a young student that you worked with. And as a matter of fact, one of my former students is the head of all the nutrition programs in the state of Louisiana [and that is] John Dupree and he is doing a wonderful job. He is very forward thinking and always coming up with good ideas to make the program better.

MH: That’s wonderful! And so can you tell me a little bit about your typical day then?

NC: Well, there was no typical day and that is one reason why I like it the way that I did so much. I might teach a couple of classes and do some research and then in a University situation you do have University committees that you work on. I worked on committees to raise the standards of entrance into the University and I also worked on a lot of other committees to improve and sometimes I was on a selection committee for students coming into the program and things like that so it was a pretty busy day. And as the internship director its always something that I did there like going out to the facilities to see how things were going.

MH: Do you remember some of the challenges that you might have been facing?

NC: Time, time, time! [Laughter] There was never enough time and certainly this University went through the same throws as others. You know, there was never enough money. I don’t think that that is ever going to change, but [it was] trying to have a first class program on very limited means.

MH: What were some of the changes that you have seen in the child nutrition program over the years?

NC: Well, I think that sitting right here at the Institute is a big change. There was nothing before and there were no resources for people in child nutrition and no central resource for them to go to and now they have that. And I am a big proponent of the Institute for a lot of reasons and I worked with Dr. Carol Shanklin when I was a graduate students [and] she was charged with developing a feasibility study for developing this Institute as it turned out and it was she and I and I was her assistant and we came down here and wrote that and it was really exciting. What was most exciting was that this wasn’t pie in the sky, it really came about and as I see the way that it is laid out I realize that she certainly had this far-reaching view of the future because so many of the things that she said this is the way that they should be this is the way that it is. So it is wonderful and then as I worked at LSU I was very fortunate to apply for and receive the big honor of being the first NFSMI scholar. They picked someone that was experienced in research to work with the Institute on a three year basis working on various projects and that was a big plus for me and I thoroughly enjoyed that.

MH: So what do you think is one of your most significant contributions to your field?

NC: Probably my participation in the feasibility study and then working with the financial management that’s been a big part of what I have done. I started that when I was a scholar working with the research arm of the institute to develop a financial management program and then I was able to take what was developed and go around the country and teach the financial management to child nutrition program directors and managers and different ones and I think that’s important and I think the fact that we did that well .I worked with Jerry Cater recently to update this and we still go out and present this.

MH: Great! Well, do you have any memorable stories [with] people that you have served with or worked with that come to mind over the years in this profession?

NC: Not really, it has just been a lot of fun and I think that sometimes though as you talk to people in child nutrition if you could just take one story from each one of them that you could come up with a wonderful book. I think that it would be a comedy book [Laughter] because they will tell about some of the situations that they have had to face in their career. I can remember that Nadine Mann talked about have to more or less go in and having to kind of rescue one of her employees who had gone into the big freezer and stood there quite a while trying to make up her mind and pick things and when she got ready to leave she found that her crepe sole shoes had frozen to the floor of the freezer so I mean everyone has a funny story. [Laughter]

MH: Well, what advice would you give to someone who is considering a career in child nutrition programs as a profession today?

NC: Oh, I think that it is a wonderful profession. I am biased but I feel like if at in the very beginning way back when if I had realized just what the huge scope of it was and the opportunities that you had it, that I would have gone into that at the very beginning because I took a little winding route to get there. It does absolutely offer many outlets for your talent and it is just how much you are willing to give you are going to reap that much more back. And let’s face it, working with children is a happy profession. I have found that the people who have worked in child nutrition programs were very pleased with their jobs and were happy at work and that wasn’t necessarily always the way that it was in other areas.

MH: I see. Well, is there anything else that you would like to add?

NC: I can’t think of anything in particular except that I am still able to work with the Institute and continuing to do research with them and continuing to present educational programs so that is a real plus and bonus in my life and it enriches my life.

MH: So you are not ever really retired?

NC: No, no! [Laughter] Not really! It is just like every other retired person; I am always trying to find the time to do the things that I want and need to do and there just isn’t enough time.

MH: Well thank you for coming in.

NC: Thank you, I enjoyed it!

MH: Now that you are retired I have heard that you have become a grandmother again?

NC: Yes! I moved to Mississippi because my daughter was living here and at the time she had five fairly young children and she was saying help, help and so after I retired we moved here and those children now range from ages twenty-two down to thirteen almost fourteen. I thought that my days of babies were over until my son married a second time and he and his wife wanted to have a child of their own. They each already had a son and low and behold they did. Three times!!! They ended up having triplets which was quite a shock and surprise to me so I spend a lot of time with those triplets. They are both taking some online courses so I go over there and watch the babies while they try to get some studying done. They say that it keeps you young and I am hoping that that is going to be the way that it works but I am not quite sure. [Laughter]

MH: How old are they now?

NC: They are ten months old now.

MH: So you are taking care of three ten month olds now?

NC: Yes, and I didn’t realize that I could do that but I can. [Laughter]

MH: There is one boy and.

NC: One little boy and two little girls and they all are just very active and developing as they should and we are just thrilled to death after my initial shock, you know I am just thrilled to pieces with it.

MH: Thank you!