Interviewee: Peggy Nakamoto
Interviewer: Josephine Martin
Date: March 14, 2007

Description: Peggy Nakamoto is a retired school food service manager and a past-president of the Oahu School Food Service Association. Peggy is very interested in child nutrition and continues to attend the School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Conferences.

Josephine Martin: I’m Josephine Martin. I’m here on the beautiful island of Oahu, in Honolulu, with Peggy Nakamoto. It is March 14th, 2007. It is exciting to be back here in Hawaii, and especially to have an opportunity to talk with Peggy. Peggy, it’s just so good to see you again.

Peggy Nakamoto: Thank you, Josephine.

JM: We appreciate your willingness to come out this afternoon and share your history.

PN: I wanted to see you too, Josephine.

JM: And I wanted to see you too, Peggy. So, let’s talk about your experience, where you grew up, how you became involved in child nutrition.

PN: Well, I’ll do the best I can. My name is Peggy Nakamoto, and I was born and raised in Honolulu. I really grew up on the island of Lanai. I say that because that was my first assignment when I became a manager. There was only one school on the island of Lanai, and I had to find out everything by myself. I didn’t want to call Honolulu that often to ask my supervisor little questions that I could figure out myself. So, that’s why I say I really grew up on Lanai.

JM: But Oahu was your home?

PN: Oahu was my home.

JM: And you went to school here on Oahu?

PN I went to school at Honolulu Community College and I took two years of, I think it was Cafeteria Management at that time. Of course, I was more interested in what the boys were doing in the shop classes.

JM and PN: Laughter

JM: Well, you must have been pretty young at that point Peggy.

PN: I had fun there.

JM: What year did you start working in school nutrition?

PN: I started working in 1968. I started on the island of Lanai. Then I went to Hokulani School, which is on the island of Oahu. Then I went to Kaimuki High School. I thought, “Oh, I’ll take a chance at a high school”. And then I went to Farrington High School, which is where I retired after 35 years of service.

JM: So, you were manager of five schools?

PN: Four schools.

JM: Manager of four schools.

PN: Lanai was an elementary and high school. So I had to figure out a lot of things. We only had delivery of milk twice a week and I had to learn the barge schedule, because we were remote. Now I understand they have mostly quick deliveries, so it’s good for the managers there. I had to figure out how to have the milk in time for the school lunch program.

JM: Did you do your own purchasing?

PN: I did my own purchasing and I had to call the local store and they would in turn call Haleulaiha Dairy to make my order. It was quite a challenge.

JM: how often did you get food delivered to the school?

PN: The school delivery for lunch program was once a week.

JM: And it came in on the barge?

PN: It came in on the barge. I don’t think we had any come in by plane. Only the milk came in by plane. Even the plane was twice a week. We didn’t want to order food for Friday delivery, so we had it twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

JM: Did you plan the menus for the school?

PN: At that time I planned the menus for the school. I followed the guidelines. It’s not like now where we have an organized meal pattern. There was a meal pattern that I had to fill in to make sure I had all the Vitamin A’s and C’s and everything.

JM: Oh, you were there when we had to include a Vitamin A food twice a week and a Vitamin C-rich food every day.

PN: Every day.

JM: What was the typical menu there in the school your first year?

PN: They really liked spaghetti. Of course, I think it’s nationwide they like spaghetti. I had salad, but the school kids on Lanai liked coleslaw with their spaghetti, and French bread, and milk and a fruit.

JM: Did you bake your own bread.

PN: We baked our own bread. I had a very good baker there. But when I went to Lanai, Josephine, it was a culture shock. I’m a city slicker going to an island with only one school. It was really hard. It took a while for me to get adjusted, but I had fun there. After the second year I didn’t want to come back, but I had the opportunity to come back, and I said “Well, opportunity may come knock only once for me, so I better take the job on Oahu”, but it was fun. At the beginning I had difficulties because of the culture shock.

JM: I bet. Was the meal service different on Oahu from Lanai?

PN: We had the same kind of meal service at that time. The meal pattern was the same, but when I came back to Oahu it was an elementary school that I was at. I started getting bored at an elementary school. I needed some action, so I went to a high school.

JM: When you were in the elementary school did you work with the teachers and the parents?

PN: I worked with the teachers a lot. We had some special needs kids that needed some help. And even the Oahu School Food Service Association decided in summertime we would go to a special needs school and help the kids. Teach them how to peel an orange. So that was really fun. We all went a couple of days during the week and we spent a month there. We had fun with the special needs kids.

JM: What were the exciting things that happened when you were in the high school?

PN: The school that I was at for twenty-two years was at the edge of Honolulu. It was an at-risk school. Our students were really rowdy. Linda said, “From where, Farrington High School? Isn’t that a bad school? Didn’t you have a hard time?” I said, “Well, you know, there’s a lot of kids all over the place.” But it’s just that Farrington kids are more active I should say, than the other schools. I put the students there in their own place. A boy was acting really smart with me. It just happened that it was a very rainy day and the kids that came in from recess early had brought in some mud along the serving line and I knew I had to have that cleaned up before the rest of the students came in. And this boy was just getting on my nerves so I said “Larry, you know what? You’re going to be my best friend after today.” He said “Why?” I said “Because you’re going to mop from here, this end, to that end of the cafeteria.” He said “I have to mop?” He didn’t do a very good job so I made him do it twice. We had two separate lines, so he did the left side and the right side. From then on he respected me. We became really good friends and when I see him in the community he says, “Mrs. Nakamoto, thank you so much for teaching me all these things. I have to behave myself.”

JM: That has to be one of the best experiences that you can relate. Are there some others?

PN: There are some other experiences too. I was at the airport, checking in to go to the mainland for a conference, and a student had recognized me and he said, “Mrs. Nakamoto, you’re Mrs. Nakamoto, right?” And I said, “Yes”. And he said, “You know what? I teach my kids, my little girl, the same thing that you taught me: to behave, to respect your elders.” And I said, “I did that?” Some people said that I was mean to them. I said, “I’m not mean to you people. I’m just strict because I want people to do right in the community.” And when I see students around town they thank me for being so strict, and when they hear my voice they know that Mrs. Nakamoto is around somewhere you know.

JM: Oh, those are wonderful stories about the influence that we have beyond just providing healthy meals for children and teaching them to eat. They remember all of the good things we do for them.

PN: That’s right. After they talked to me I said to myself, “You know, I must have really been an influence on their lives, because now they have a good job. They’re not in trouble.” And I always ask them, the first thing I ask them, “Do you have a job? Are you behaving yourself?” “Miss Nakamoto, I always behave myself. I don’t get in trouble anymore.” And you know, I used to yell at them. I used to tell the football boys, “I’m your worst nightmare, so listen to me.” And they took care of me.

JM: They took care of you and you took care of them. Now tell me about your role in the association. You were very active. You ARE very active.

PN: Well, like Nancy mentioned, I’ve been recycled, I think, three times, three or four times as President. I enjoyed myself being President. It was just that it was a lot of work to do, but it was very rewarding, and the thing I like about it is meeting people like you, Josephine, when I go to conventions. I really enjoy myself.

JM: What do you feel are the major benefits that the association brought to the members?

PN: I think it’s professionalism. When I have a problem that I have to tackle, I think about the workshops that I’ve been to and what we talked about, and I try to apply them to the situation that I have. It’s not only the work down here or the meetings that we have. It’s the meetings that we have on the mainland, too.

JM: And I know that you’re a great networker. You form valuable networks with people from all over the states.

PN: Well, I have friends from the first year I went to the convention, and I think Karen Johnson has mentioned that “Oh, there’s a girl from Hawaii that’s going to see her friend after the conference”. I think it was the Baltimore convention, and I was going to see my girlfriend that I met in Detroit in 1969. I was going to spend some time with her in Pennsylvania. Oh, my gosh, I didn’t realize that she might mention that at the convention. After the meeting, a couple of people asked me, “Are you the girl from Hawaii that’s gonna meet your friend that you met many years ago?” And these are the friendships that I really cherish, the people that I meet from all over the country. My girlfriend Lois said that. “Oh, Peggy, you know so many people, and they’re all over the United States.” And I said, “Well, it’s from my association that I have, that I’m in.”

JM: You said that the association, the professional development, the networking, the making friends, the socialization, and you applied what you learned there.

PN: Um-hum.

JM: What about new equipment and supplies?

PN: Oh, yea. When I would come back from the convention I would go straight to the restaurant dealer and ask a salesman for some things and he would say, “You came back from the convention, right Peggy?” He knew exactly where I came from because I always had ideas of what I wanted to buy or what I want to bring in.

JM: Tell me Peggy, how do you think the food has changed over the years in the schools? Do you think the same menu that you served in the high schools when you were manager would be the ones that kids want today?

PN: I think nowadays the menus are more, how do I say this, there’s more choices and more ethnic foods available in schools now.

JM: What’s the most popular ethnic food in Oahu now?

PN: Teriyaki chicken.

JM: Teriyaki chicken, that’s interesting. And how long have you been retired?

PN: I’ve been retired three years. I had 35 years of service, but I felt that, I looked around the school and I didn’t see my friends anymore. They were retiring too. We would go to football together, basketball, go to the sports to help support the students, and I didn’t see them anymore. I wasn’t having fun. I would have fun with the students, but it wasn’t the same thing. My colleagues were all retiring and one of the things that made me think about retiring was one of the students said, “Mrs. Nakamoto, you’re in my mother’s yearbook.” And I said, “Oh, my God, this is the second generation at Farrington.” From that time on I thought, “They’re not calling me Auntie anymore. Some of them are calling me Grandma.” I’m not even their mother. I don’t have children. So I thought, “Oh, my God, I better start thinking about retirement.”

JM: Well, I’m glad that even though you decided to retire, you have not given up your interest in the School Nutrition Association.

PN: Oh, that’s been my passion to go to the convention.

JM: And I know you’re always there. Well, if you had to pick out one thing that would be your most memorable experience, what would it be?

PN: In the child nutrition program?

JM: In the child nutrition program.

PN: In the child nutrition program. Let’s see. The students are always, I always refer to the students as my kids, my kids.

JM: You were student focused.

PN: Yes, and some of them would say, “You’re too young.” But when I was called Grandma that was it. That made me think about retirement. But when I see them around town now, they always tell me how thankful they are. I’m really happy about that.

JM: That’s a very rewarding experience.

PN: Yes.

JM: And I guess this question is kind of close to that. What is the most significant contribution that you feel that you made to the child nutrition program or the association in your thirty-five years?

PN: Well, for the child nutrition program it was the students that I met. I think that at the school there are students that are really down to earth. I came from a school that was across town. We always had food in our refrigerator at home. Those students at Farrington, a lot of time they open up the refrigerator and they don’t see any food. That’s what brought me really close to Farrington, you know. These students really don’t have dinner. They just go home and they’re so tired, they just do their homework and they go to sleep without dinner. And for me to provide them with a balanced meal, that was really rewarding.

JM: That was the most rewarding. And that’s really why we’re in the business and why we’re so passionate about what we do and the people we work with.

PN: I think so, yea.

JM: Well, you have truly been a great friend to the whole child nutrition program. You and Nancy both are known all over for your hospitality, and your fellowship, and your networking, and I’m so delighted that your oral history could be added to the Institute’s oral histories.

PN: Thank you Josephine and welcome to Hawaii.

JM: Oh, thank you. Do I say aloha, or mahalo?

PN: Mahalo is thank you.

JM: Oh, mahalo, I thought I was getting it wrong. So, mahalo Peggy.

PN: Thank you Josephine.