Description: Syble T. Jones is the former Food Service Director for Rapides Parish, Louisiana. When Syble started her career in 1968 she had 27,000 students spread across 54 schools.
MH: Today is Monday, September the 8th, 2008 and I am Melba Hollingsworth. I am an Education and Training Specialist at the National Food Service Management Institute. I am here with Syble Jones, a retired child nutrition program Director from Rapides Parish, Louisiana. Syble, would you tell us a little bit about yourself and where you grew up and also your earliest recollection of child nutrition programs?
SJ: Okay, I actually grew up…of course we are in Summit, Mississippi now at my second home and an old family home…I grew up nine miles out in the country here…north of this area of Summit.
MH: Wow, okay.
SJ: I graduated from a little school called Johnson Station High School, which was a first through 12 school. I went to it all 12 years. I went to Copiah Lincoln, now Community College; it was junior college then in Wesson, Mississippi. I then went on to the University of Southern Mississippi, where I graduated with a B.S. in Institutional Management which is how I got into Dietetics. That’s basically it. And I grew up on a dairy farm. My father was a dairyman and I learned how to milk cows and do all of those things when I was little. My first recollection of child nutrition programs was probably when I was in high school, but I didn’t know what it was then. But the really true would be 1966. My husband and I moved. He took a job in Alexandria, Louisiana, and I was looking for a job and went and interviewed with the child nutrition supervisor at the time of Rapides Parish, Mrs. Urada Taylor and she wanted me to interview with the superintendent. They had just appointed a supervisor, though, so, I did not go to work for the school board at that time. I went to work for Central State Hospital, which is a large mental hospital, as you know, in Louisiana, as the Chief Dietician and stayed there until the lady who had taken the job went to the State Department, Mrs. Pinkus, Marjorie Pinkus, and then Mrs. Taylor called me. She was really the one who got me into it. And said, “You are not going to apply for this job?” and I said, “I am really happy where I am. What does this mean?” Of course, the salary was more. I went over and interviewed with the then superintendent, and he hired me.
MH: What year was this again?
SJ: 1968. I went to work February the first of 1968. At that time it was Supervisor and then of course later it moved into a Director position.
MH: How large was that school district?
SJ: At that time, we had 27,000 students and we had 54 schools, I believe.
MH: In Rapides Parish?
SJ: In Rapides Parish.
MH: Wow. And what was your staff at the time?
SJ: At the time, I was the only Supervisor and I don’t know how I handled it all. Of course, we didn’t do much supervising, we didn’t do much. But I had a bookkeeper and two secretaries. Let’s see is that all we had? Yes, a bookkeeper and two secretaries when I first went in ’68. Within the next year, we hired a Supervisor, an assistant, and started moving. Of course, I got pregnant with my third child, surprise, surprise! And I had to take a six months’ leave in ’69 by the time he was born. Then I went back and then later, I’m trying to remember when we hired the second Supervisor. It wasn’t too long. It was about ’75, 76, and then I was Director and then we had two Supervisors for the district that were; one of them was a Registered Dietician. Ms. Bowen was the Home Ec teacher who would come up.
MH: Now this was only school lunch at the time, right?
SJ: School lunch?
MH: No breakfast at the time.
SJ: Yes, the breakfast. When I say that, breakfast programs started the first day of 1967 that they could serve breakfast. Rapides Parish served three pilot programs. They were the first system to serve breakfast west of the Mississippi. I think North Carolina had a school that beat them because they started back after the holidays one day earlier than Rapides Parish did. Otherwise, we basically were the first to start. We started with three programs. And see, I went that same year, because I went as a Supervisor. By the next year we had 19 schools and then kept adding schools. They kind of left it up to me to persuade the principals to get in a breakfast program. (Laughs). I got all but five or six big high schools and they just didn’t see any need. My theory was that if a high school student got to school without breakfast he needed it as bad or she needed it as bad as the little fellow because of the disposition. So I went to the school board and asked them to mandate that all schools offer breakfast. And I think we were probably the first system in the nation to do that, 1972 that we started offering breakfast in every school in the district. And so, it then built from there.
MH: Yes. That was quite an accomplishment.
SJ: Well the things I remember. This would be something that you have to tell. As I would open schools for breakfast, I usually always went that first day that they opened the breakfast program for the students. And I can remember one school in particular, several of them, but this one was so vivid. It was in a low-income area and I remember the principal and I were standing there and he said, “These children really need this in this area.” And they did. They ate like little pigs, if you want to say that. They ate everything on their plate. And that was the beginning of it. I went back about six or eight weeks later. And this is something else. I wish I had pictures of those students the morning we started and then about six or eight weeks later. You couldn’t have told they were the same children. You could not tell. The first morning when I went, you had lots of children with infantigo, sores on their legs. Their little hair looked dry and their skin was kind of scaly. When I went back, six or eight weeks later, I don’t remember exactly how many weeks it was, it wasn’t more than eight, it was in the neighborhood of six or seven. Their skin was shiny. I could not believe that food would make that much difference, even though I knew as a Dietician major. But those children did not look like the same children. Of course, all of the principals would tell me in every school that we started in, that students were performing better. They weren’t absent as much and they were not being sick as much. You see, back then, principals could give them aspirin for headaches. And one principal told me she had a bottle of aspirin in her desk, or in his desk, he was a male, and he said, ” I would usually have to buy two or three during the year.” And this was mid semester and he hadn’t used the first bottle. So, there was a lot of change. And we had that from teachers, from all over, that there was just a real difference in students when they started getting breakfast.
MH: What other things do you recall that kind of stick out in your mind?
SJ: That about the children. I guess I also recall some things that some of the principals said. “I don’t know if you can do that or not.” like offering choices. We started offering choices before we were really supposed to, before they-
MH: Before “Offer vs. Serve?”
SJ: MUCH before! We started it about in 1972. One of the things that I, I was one of the 30 menu planners for the Nutrient Standards Study that was conducted by Colorado State University. It was a grant from USDA and there were 30 of us. In fact, there were four from Louisiana. It was me, Ms. Stringfield who was in East Baton Rouge, John Schlagle who was from the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and Winifred Mertens who was in Caddo Parish as a Supervisor at that time. She later came to Rapides after her husband took a grocery store there. But we went to Colorado State and we did that. And that was the first time that we had ever offered our children chocolate milk. You know, before 1971, the only thing that the USDA would allow us to do was to serve them WHOLE milk. White milk. Whole white milk. And during that study, the week that we did the nutrient standard menus which were part of nutrients, more than it was the old Type A pattern, we offered white milk, of course we were offering that, all white milk one day, and then we offered all chocolate one day. The child couldn’t even get white milk. And then we offered a choice. The surprising thing was no milk waste when we offered choices. You know at the dish window, if we had milk left over we would pour it in the bucket and that sort of thing. If we had all chocolate or if we had all white, we had milk waste, because children did not like chocolate and were not drinking it that well. Of course, there were lots of children that didn’t drink the white. The principals were even astonished at that. So after that, they allowed those of us who had participated in that study to continue offering chocolate milk. And of course then later…it became [allowed to serve both]. One of the things in the early seventies, Melba, a small dairy, Walker Roman Dairies, had our milk bid there in Alexandria. They had a small plant and they got our milk bid. The manager of that unit was really cooperative and I asked to see if we could try some low-fat chocolate, because chocolate was the milk with the sugar and all of the fat and everything. So we did. We started a formula and he helped develop it and students didn’t know the difference. They drank it. We put 2% of course, now I am told 1% butter fat. We began, as I said, once we really began to offer this to students, there was not milk waste almost at all. During that study, the days we offered the choice, the nutrient intake of the students was way up.
MH: Umm Hmm.
SJ: Because we did the plate waste where you weighed everything the child had thrown away. But that was the beginning of schools starting out, as far as I know, we were the first system to offer the low-fat chocolate. I had Supervisors from Florida, from I don’t know where all , Minnesota, several different states, when they heard about the fact that we were doing low-fat chocolate and they called and asked for the formula.
MH: They wanted the specifications so that they could get on it.
SJ: Specifications, right.
MH: I see.
SJ: So that was kind of interesting that we were the first to do that. It paid off. It really did. One of the things, you know there were studies that came out that showed that certain children that had lactose intolerance, that the chocolate milk didn’t seem to bother them as bad as all white. And that was particularly true in the black students, the dark skinned students.
MH: Oh really?
SJ: And see, I had students in those areas say, “That milk just hurts my stomach.” Well, it really probably did, but then they would drink the chocolate and didn’t complain. So, I don’t know, later was when we got the information that some people who had light, I don’t think that they had heavy lactose intolerance, but they had light, that they could drink chocolate milk and it didn’t bother them like the white milk.
MH: Do you recall what the price of the meals and the breakfasts were back then when you first started?
SJ: When I first started, lunch was 20 cents. And breakfast, I don’t remember what we charged for breakfast back then. It was not very much.
MH: Now, what year was this again?
SJ: Now, we started breakfast in all schools in ’72, now we had it in most schools before ’72… in ’71, in all in ’72. I can’t remember what we charged them for breakfast then; probably 10 cents, 5 or 10 cents. It wasn’t very much.
MH: It’s unbelievable, isn’t it? Do you even remember the cost of the milk?
SJ: Milk was not very much. It was about three or four cents for a half pint. It was very low, very low.
MH: Wow. I can’t imagine. Did you write all the menus?
SJ: I started that. When I say that, yes, we did a parish-wide menu and then we later got into…
MH: So, you had a cycle menu?
SJ: Well, I did and I didn’t because of the commodities. You couldn’t just say you would do this cycle menu if you had all of these commodities at the other end. But basically, it was a sort of a cycle, but we would change it to meet whatever commodities we had, or the holidays or whatever.
MH: So you could incorporate commodities as you went along?
SJ: Oh, yes.
MH: I see. Do you remember at all your raw food costs? Or what your labor was?
SJ: No. I can’t even remember back then. But one thing I will tell you, in the middle 70’s, Rapides Parish’s participation in school lunch was over 93% parish-wide. That was one of the highest in the state and in the nation! As you know, Louisiana ranked for many, many years as number one with their participation. People didn’t understand that. One of the things that as far as child nutrition, you would have people would say it is because we have a lot of low-income students. That didn’t have anything to do with it. Because we had students who wouldn’t get their lunch, wouldn’t take lunch even if they had a free lunch if they didn’t particularly like it. But what it was, and you know this, Ms. Evelyn Terrell who was the State Director way back, even before I got into child nutrition, she got the legislature to pass a law that said that every Supervisor had to have, at that time, a Bachelor’s Degree with certain requirements. And it was basically the Dietetic degree is what it was. The reason that Louisiana [was number one] is because every system level in the state of Louisiana, you had trained people, educated in the food and nutrition, who were running the programs. And that is why our participation was so high. And then of course in the early seventies, we started our Managers’ Training Program for high school graduates. That helped improve the program and what was going on. The level of training at the system level is what I contribute to our high participation in the fact that we had qualified people running the systems.
MH: It makes a big difference.
SJ: It makes a lot of difference. Then of course you know, later, I think it was 1978, they passed you had to have a Master’s Degree to be certified.
MH: So it was 19 what again?
SJ: I think it was ’78.
MH: ’78 when you had to have a Master’s Degree.
SJ: I’m not positive on that but I think it was. I think they passed it about; I believe it was 1978 when the legislature passed it. Then you went to a Master’s. A person had to have a Master’s Degree.
MH: You didn’t have to do that.
SJ: No. I had a Master’s at that time in 1978. But I had already been certified with a B.S. Degree before they required it, you see. I got my Master’s in ’72.
MH: What was your Master’s Degree in? Dietetics?
MH: Is this from Southern also?
SJ: No, it was from Louisiana Tech in Rustin.
MH: So, it really made a big difference of education for those Directors.
SJ: You see, and they are required now to have a Master’s Degree. I don’t know of many other states that require that. Florida was one of the other states that required some kind of certification for its system level people at the time. But I don’t remember exactly what. It may have been similar to that.
MH: While you were going to college, did they offer any classes in child nutrition programs or strictly was it Dietetics?
SJ: I think later they did. But at that time, you see Winifred Mertens and I both went about the same time and got our Master’s from Tech.
MH: Now Winifred Mertens had what parish?
SJ: Well, she was, Ms. Opal Blake was the Supervisor. You remember Opal, don’t you or did you remember her?
MH: Vaguely, I remember her…
SJ: She was the Director in Caddos. Winifred’s husband was with Wholesome Bakery. I was at Central Hospital, and hired her as the Dietician there in 1966. And then when she heard Jack, that Wholesome was sending him to Shreveport, I called Ms. Blake and told her that Winifred was coming up there and she needed to talk to her. And they hired her. Winifred wrote me a note, I don’t know if I still have it anywhere, that our lives had been so intertwined and they still were. And then when I left Rapides for that period of time, they had moved back to Rapides Parish. He had taken over his father’s grocery store, and so she was working for Public Health. She came over to the school board then. And of course, then later I came back as Director, so she was working for me again. Our lives have been so intertwined through the years. We laugh about this. She got pregnant when we were working on our Master’s and so did I. Her daughter Julie, her and Kent, my youngest, we laugh and say we had two educated children.
MH: Was there someone, a mentor, who was influential in directing you into the child nutrition profession?
SJ: I would say, Ms. Taylor, the lady who had been in Rapides for so many years. She was the one. She called me and begged me to come.
MH: Now, she started in ’46? Okay.
SJ: She was the Food Service Supervisor.
MH: Now was she the Home Ec Director?
SJ: She was a Home Ec teacher in Rapides Parish and she became Supervisor and was there 20 years.
MH: Twenty years…from ’46…wow.
SJ: She stayed til ’66 and then Ms. Pinkus was there for only 18 months and then I came in ’68.
MH: So you are the third Food Service Director.
MH: Third. And you were there for 34 years?
SJ: Basically. I was gone a short period of time in between there and was in West Baton Rouge for three years, but basically, I was in Rapides Parish.
MH: Pretty much thirty and some odd years.
SJ: Over 30 years.
MH: So basically, the mentors, you feel, who were some of these again?
SJ: Basically, when we say mentors, you know, Ms. Taylor was influential in getting me into the child nutrition program. Now she didn’t, say, mentor me, you know, at that time. Nell Broulette was real…
MH: Yeah. Nell Broulette. Now where was she?
SJ: Nell was at the State Department at that time as Training Supervisor. See, that was when we started Manager Training programs. In 1971, I knew that I needed to do something in Rapides. And I went down and Ms. Pinkus was there. We went down, no, let’s see. Ms. Pinkus wasn’t there, Mr. Stoker was there then. Well, anyway, Nell was still there. And so, I remember we met in one of the rooms there. And we talked, and I said, “If you are not going to start some kind of program state-wide, I need to do something in my parish, because it was big enough.” “Oh yes, we will start something.” Then we started meeting. We said, “So let’s just go ahead and write the lessons ourselves.”; which they were crude and some of the supervisors later said, “They weren’t very good.” Well, they were good. We got it started. And that is when we started Manager Training programs. And some of us, we taught it, some of the locals; I did. I taught several classes. I still have ladies come up to me and say, “You taught me in Manager’s Training.”
MH: Did they come to Rapides or did they have it in different parishes?
SJ: They had it all over the state. Northwestern had some of them. I can’t remember what they did in the south end of the state, where they had their training programs. The State Department did some of them. And then they sophisticated it and got Louisiana Tech to write the manual. And got it more, I call it more professional. Of course, they had a hard time getting it done because Louisiana Tech drug its feet.
SJ: Of course, Ms. Stringfield, now Mildred was pretty influential. Because she was the Director in East Baton Rouge at that time. We just kind of all helped each other is what we did back in those years.
MH: Do you recall the amount of at-risk students that you had at the time?
SJ: You know, free-reduced, we have always had a pretty high percentage. We had close to 50%.
SJ: Later, before I retired, we had over the 60%, so we were getting the extra reimbursement.
MH: Do you recall some of the menus or food that the kids particularly liked at that time, things that were most popular? You were in North Louisiana. And here I was in South Louisiana. What was unique?
SJ: One of the things they always liked was hamburgers as you know. That’s universal. But, also, one of things that I noticed, green beans used to be the favorite green vegetable. But as the years went on, broccoli became their favorite. That was the change. Our students loved pizza, of course. That was always a popular thing. We had some ladies in Rapides that could make the best chicken and dumplings you have ever eaten in a big old kettle. Fried chicken was pretty popular with our kids when we had fried chicken. Of course, it was real popular with the staff when we had chicken and dumplings; all of them would rush out to the schools to have lunch. I’m trying to remember some of the things. One of the things that was extremely popular; at Bolton High School, we had a little lady who was Manager there, and she had a recipe for what was called Peanut Butter Strips. I had the recipe, but nobody really could make it like Ms. David’s crew at Bolton. And we had students call and ask for that recipe after they graduated from high school.
MH: What was it exactly?
SJ: It was a Peanut Butter Strip. It was kind of like, I would call it like a peanut butter cake. It wasn’t really cake. It wasn’t really candy. It was kind of like a brownie, and she dusted it with powdered sugar. It was very popular. But now, the other schools couldn’t do it as well as those cooks could. I don’t know what it was, but, bless her heart, she knew how to do that. You know, they loved certain things. Of course, most all of the students would tell us when they got out, they didn’t know how good the food was until they got in college or got away from it and they couldn’t have it.
MH: So y’all made homemade bread?
MH: All the rolls from scratch?
SJ: (Nods.) Now for a long time, we had so much flour, as you remember, that we made our own hamburger and hot dog buns. And I began to watch as I visited schools that the kids, now adults, the teachers loved it, they loved the homemade bread. But the students weren’t eating it. So, we decided to do some tests. I did a lot of little things like this. We had several schools. We got them to do the homemade hamburger buns and offer the purchased buns, you know, like from Wholesome. And they left almost all of the homemade buns. Yeah, they wouldn’t eat them. They ate those purchased buns because that was what they were used to. So we basically stopped making hamburger and hot dog buns. We started buying those and using our flour for other things. But by then we weren’t getting as much flour. They still made the homemade rolls. And French bread, we made a lot of French bread. They still made those from scratch. But we did buy hamburger and hot dog buns during the final years. The kids would eat them better.
MH: What is your memory about commodities? Remember commodities? (Laughs).
SJ: Well, yes. It was either famine or feast, that is what it was. You know, we would have so much flour and butter, we couldn’t use it all. Then certain things we didn’t get enough of. Yes, that was, let me see what we did. One of the things that I did that was kind of, we had in later years, we did what was called Commodity Processing. I didn’t ever do a lot of it, because the commodities that I got, most if the time, I could use in our own recipes. We didn’t find we were saving that much money sending it to the companies. Way back we got, this would have been in the 70’s, we got a lot of ground pork. And we were just having difficulty using all of it. And we had a small processing plant there in Rapides, Rapides Packing Company. And they did the best smoked sausage and some other stuff. I went out and talked to them about it and they agreed to take the ground pork and they did smoked sausage for us, processed it, because that was more popular with the kids. You know, we always did sausage and red beans almost every Monday, not every Monday, but many Mondays. So we did that. That was one of the first that I can remember processing. I didn’t do much of it, but we did do that. Of course, they went out of business and weren’t there to do it anymore. A lot of packing companies went to the wayside or are not there anymore. There was one slaughterhouse in Louisiana, maybe two, I don’t remember. I tell you the other thing that we did, Melba, this has been since you left; some of the meat packers asked the Dept of Agriculture, Mike St. Romain and them…
MH: Yeah, Mike St. Romain, I remember him.
SJ: Mike hasn’t been all that long been retired. I think he retired last year or the year before. They asked him to get a committee of Supervisors together; that was when the lower fat and lower calorie stuff was coming out from all of these national companies. And they wanted to get some of the business, see? And we met; I remember Mike talked with me about it, so I agreed to serve. Then we kind of got Supervisors from each of the five districts of Louisiana to serve with us or work with us and we started helping develop some products that they could do. And one of the things that we did, we took turkey and we made smoked sausage; 50% turkey and 50% pork. And I had people ask me, “Where did we get that?” And I said that they don’t sell it on the market. But see, it lowered the fat tremendously. And we also tried it. The only thing it didn’t work too well in using up to 50% was in hamburger patties. Students could somehow taste the difference and that didn’t work too well. But we did a breakfast sausage, a little patty. That I know. That Gurlack Meeks built a new plant on getting that business because he helped develop that product. Manda’s and Savoie’s and all of those people came in and helped with the product specifications. You see, the Department of Agriculture changed. They didn’t really change IMPs (Federal Specifications for meat) they wrote the Louisiana IMPs, which is what we started using for some products. We helped develop that. That was fun to do and it really was rewarding because we did lower a good bit of the fat and they got a lot of the business so that was some of the other companies, the national companies were doing it, but they weren’t getting the business and that was what we were able to do. That was one of the things I remember. That wasn’t commodities, in particular, even though Mike was kind of over commodities.
MH: He was so friendly and always willing to help, wasn’t he?
SJ: He was.
MH: He was very good.
SJ: Do you remember Randall Wright who was there before him? You probably weren’t in the system when Bud, BUD we used to call him; he was Supervisor for many, many years. And that was when they were still with the State Department.
MH: I see.
SJ: See, you know they transferred over to the Department of Agriculture when things kind of got hairy in the State Department.
MH: That reminds me, legislatively, do you recall during your period of things that you might have had to; things that changed where you had to work together to support laws or things that went on?
SJ: Well, we always had the legislature, remember?
MH: Remember…yes once a year…our trip to…
SJ: Yeah…we did a lot of…wasn’t just for salaries either. Sometimes, it was laws that were affecting what we were doing and we either had to support them or go oppose if it was something that wasn’t going to benefit child nutrition. This is kind of, and I won’t mention any names, when I got into Rapides Parish, in order to kind of “up” the quality of people we were having, we were trying to encourage not hiring people who didn’t have a high school diploma. If I had an applicant come in, I would encourage them to go to Adult Ed and all of that. One of the politicians had a lady he wanted us to hire and she had an eighth-grade education. And he got so upset; I guess with me, whatever, that he went that year to the legislature and he put a law in, if you remember, we could not require a Food Service worker to have a high school diploma. That’s still in effect.
MH: Was that from Rapides Parish?
SJ: (Nods). That was from Rapides Parish.
MH: I wondered about that.
SJ: I guess I could tell you what his name is…you don’t want me to do that. He’s deceased now. He is not alive. He wasn’t extremely educated himself. The thing was, I don’t know how many applicants that I encouraged to get their GEDs; and then they came to work for us. They were so proud of themselves that it was worth trying to encourage an applicant to do that.
MH: So what was a typical day like for you? Or was there a typical day?
SJ: A typical day…(laughs). When and where? A typical day would be, of course, getting up and getting all of those kids off to school, and getting to the office and trying to see what was going on. We, one of the things we did in Rapides, I did this back some time ago, most of the office staff went at 8:00. Well, you know the cafeteria ladies got there at 6:00 and 6:30, and if you had problems, they were already having them before 8:00. So, I persuaded the superintendent to let my staff come in at 7:00. We got off an hour earlier. So we started coming in at 7:00 and that gave us a chance to take the calls if they were having equipment problems or delivery problems or whatever, you know, that we needed to see about. So that would be the thing. Of course, we stayed pretty busy during the day. One thing that I…the changes over the years…you know when I first went to Rapides in 1968, I spent an awful lot of time in schools and I enjoyed that…being with the children, the students. As the time went on and all of the regulations began, I spent more and more time in the office. I couldn’t get away from it. And you know how that is. That’s …that was the thing the most I missed as time went on…not being able to spend time in the schools because we had so much. Of course, you know, we started…here we go with another first…we were the first system in the nation to have computers in every school in the system. Did you know that?
SJ: I got with a man out of Shreveport who had some programmers…and we helped develop the Bon Appétit software in that system. We were the ones who started that. We put computers in every school in the system in 1987. We put a computer in every school cafeteria. We started keeping the records and the students. We had a young programmer who was working part-time, kind of with our system and so we were first trying to do a program…I wanted to do something to take the students through the line without identifying them and everything we had thought about…you know how it was…that was so hard. But the computer was the thing that allowed us to do that. Because we developed a system…and what it was, Kenny Clark was the young man’s name…he came to me and said, “I think this will work.” But when he told me how simple it sounded. We were talking about the code each student would use he said, “Use the first and last initial and a number, and the number was designed so that if a student in the same school had the same initials…say you had had three S Jones’…so you would say SJones0, SJones1, SJones2, and the surprising thing about that is that it was the simplest thing…it was the easiest thing. And what we wound up doing…even in the high schools, we would issue an ID card with that code on it, but the cashiers would soon learn the students by their ID. But, nobody knew who was on free, not even the cashiers knew. Because on the computer it would just show that they didn’t owe any money.
MH: I see.
SJ: We helped develop that program. We started it then and they are still using it. Of course there are several other companies that have developed programs, similar…not the same thing.
SJ: That was a real fun thing to do.
MH: I gather you had to do a lot of training and convincing for your Managers to use it.
SJ: I had two Managers that really…the computer…they just didn’t think they could do it. I had one Manager, she was a good Manager …she was at one of my junior high schools, and her Assistant Manager was pretty smart and she loved the computer. I persuaded her, I said, “You take over production, and let her do the computer.” “Can I do that?” “Sure you can. You’re the boss…you can assign anybody in your school….” So they did that and it worked well. So she stayed on til she retired. The other one…she kind of stuck it out…she did alright with it. She just didn’t know if that was going to work. But most of them…in fact, after we did the training, and got them kind of used to it, many of them said, “If you tried to put me back to doing that by hand…” (Laughs). I don’t know if you remember, but when I first went there, they would have the dining room tables in their houses spread out at the end of the month with all those long reports they had to do. And they didn’t have to do that. You see, they could have the end of the month report ready in less than 15 minutes after they closed the line because of the way the computer was. It has been quite a change for them. Of course in most systems in Louisiana now, they have gone to one system or another, have gone to computer programs, particularly to run the students through the line. That has really been a plus.
MH: What advice would you give to someone today who is considering child nutrition programs as a profession?
SJ: Well, I loved it. I guess I would tell them they need to consider going into it because it was fun. Of course I do think, and some of the State Department people would tell me, people like myself who had the Dietetic training, usually ran a more efficient system than some of the other ladies who just had Home Ec and didn’t have the business background. I think it would be a good thing for colleges and universities to get programs to major in that because a lot of states don’t require that and I think it would tend to improve. One of the things that you know has happened, Melba, is that we were talking about the legislature, a lot of the times in the legislature was to fight for money to get salary funding…or to get money. As you know, Senator Allen Ellender was one of the ones who helped to start the National School Lunch Program. It was patterned after Louisiana…did you know that?
SJ: Oh, yeah. See, when Huey Long was Governor, they established a reimbursement for every lunch that was served to students…nine cents a meal. We got that cut out in the ’80’s when Gov. Roemer went in and they started needing money for other things and they cut that.
MH: I remember when we used to get a little stipend from the State Department.
SJ: That’s right. See they hadn’t gotten that in many years. Before 1946 even I think, it was in affect in Louisiana to get that stipend. I think at that time we were getting nine cents a meal. So, really and truly, the National School Lunch Program was patterned after some of the way that Louisiana was doing it. Of course, that is one of the reasons that Louisiana is strong in the program all along, because the state tried to provide some funding for that. You know, think of building a school in the south without building a cafeteria. Now, in some of the northern schools when they sort of started mandating it, a lot of them didn’t have cafeterias and they were having to use classrooms and serve them in the classrooms and all of that. But in the south, and I am talking about Texas and Louisiana and Alabama and Georgia and South and North Carolina and Florida and all of them and Tennessee, when they built a school, they built a cafeteria.
SJ: And so, it was a very important thing in the social structure, I think, of what went on in schools. You know, of course, when I first started, our elementary teachers did a lot of training in the cafeteria and kind of used it as a classroom. Of course, that is a change that has happened. Teachers wanted to have duty-free periods. And so you wind up with nobody in there a lot of times.
MH: So the teachers used to eat with the children.
SJ: Oh…they were required to.
MH: I still had some principals in Rapides Parish that still required them to sit with the children…because that was the social time. You learned a little bit more about the children.
MH: So, what do you think has been your most significant contribution to the field?
SJ: I think, probably, the Breakfast Program…getting it started and it being so strong. Rapides Parish was not the largest parish in the state in population…and I am talking about school children. But…I think we were somewhere like seventh or eighth in the number of students. But, in the child nutrition programs, our volume was such that we were like fourth or fifth. We were that much ahead of some of the other systems. And I am talking about in the money we took in and the programs and all. Of course, we did summer feeding. Did you know we started elderly feeding? That is one of the things…I still think the school cafeteria should be used for a lot of things that we are maybe not using it for.
MH: Do you remember when you started that, the elderly feeding?
SJ: The elderly feeding? Yes, that was in 1972, I believe was the year that we started; congregant meal sites. Later it moved into still having congregant sites, but also Meals on Wheels. And then later, the Council on Ageing did kind of move out of the schools because, there were some real positives about that, and there were some negatives. The real positive was if the grandparents could have some influence over the students. But most of the old people didn’t go to eat at the same time as the students because it was noisy. (Laughs).
SJ: But one of the things that happened when they started the elderly feeding programs, the congregant sites, see demographics change with the school population. I remember, in particular, one of the big programs we had in elderly feeding was at Rugg Elementary. Rugg Elementary, I guess, back in the 50’s and maybe 60’s was a big elementary school. But the strange thing about it, the housing in that area was, at one time, middle and upper middle income families. They began to get older and then some of the houses were rented and sold off. All of a sudden, you wound up with more older people around the school than there were children. That happens. Now it gradually now is going back to more rental property and you get younger people in. They found that out in some of their studies; that was happening. So the schools where you used to think there was more elementary children or children, now there were more older people. And then as they die off or move or go into nursing homes, the property starts being rented back to younger families. So it was kind of an interesting phenomenon.
MH: Do you have any memorable stories or any more that come to mind as you think over the years?
SJ: Well, let me tell you some cute things. I had several Managers who worked well with nutrition, but I had one lady in, Ms. Madie Carter, out at North Bayou Rapides and she was real good about working with the children. At lunchtime, she would go out into the cafeteria and she would talk to them and she would encourage them to try the new foods and different things. And she told me one time she was going to write a book about some of the sayings that some of the children said. She never did, but I think it would have been fun. But she was telling me about this and I still tell this pretty often. She had a little boy that she was out in the dining room with. They had broccoli spears that day. [She] said he was pulling at them with his fingers, his hands, and she said, “Now Johnny, we don’t eat our food with our fingers.” And he looks up at her and says, “Ms. Carter, I wasn’t going to eat it with my fingers, I was just removing the stump!”
MH: ( Laughs.)
SJ: So those are the kinds of things that are pretty memorable, what the children said. One little girl I remember sitting at the table one day, she was, I think, a third grader, and we had spinach that day. I said something about trying spinach. It would make her pretty. She said, “I am already pretty.” I said “How do you know you are already pretty?” And she said “My mama tells me that I am.” So children are real funny and that was the thing that I missed as time went on. But, I think one of the things, Melba, too, the ladies who worked in the program, most of them came into the program unskilled. Many of them had never thought about going to college. But, it was a strange thing. The salaries and all that we were finally able to get them, move them up the ladder, most of them had children go to college. For some of them, it was a very prestigious job, even though we might not think so, in working in a cafeteria. We tried to make, or at least I did, them feel more important than sometimes they were given credit for being. I think about some of the things, you know we talk about the children who come to school. We had, in one of our schools one year, a little cashier for the breakfast program; this little boy came in every morning to eat breakfast. One morning he came in and he was upset about something. She knew he was. So she started asking him when he got to the cash register what was wrong and said he just broke down in the biggest cry. He said his daddy had beaten his momma before he came to school. Well, of course, she immediately went to the principal and the principal got the teacher. Somebody asked why they would send that child to school being that upset. I said, “That was probably the safest place for him to be.” And sure enough it was. By lunchtime, the teacher, knowing what had happened, had him and he was pretty much acting back to himself, or was not as upset as he had been. That was a very observant employee to notice and get the right people on it. And it was rewarding. I had one Manager; she really almost had a mental breakdown. She was in a very low-income area and children would come in, like I told you, with the infantigo. She would see them come in, many mornings the staff would tell me, she would take two or three children to the bathroom and bathe them in medicated soap to try to help them get rid of their sores. It just worried her so that they were not being cared for. So, these were the kinds of people; this makes you real proud to have that kind of people working for you. And, it was really, really quite rewarding in that sense. Those are the kinds of things that you just can’t describe.
MH: Exactly. You just have to live them.
SJ: That’s right.
MH: You have to live them. Anything else that you think you want to add?
SJ: I can’t think of a lot. I can tell a lot of stories. I have probably already done that. I do think that, you know, Louisiana, and we talked a little bit about that at lunch, has been a leader as I said in the program for the nation for many, many years because of the high participation; and we had principals, when I first went with Rapides, they had to eat in the cafeteria. They didn’t allow them to bring their lunch.
MH: Well, that helped your participation.
SJ: That helped our participation. We had to start letting some of them bring their lunch. But you know, one of the things about children bringing lunch boxes, it wasn’t because they didn’t care for the cafeteria food. It was because they wanted to have a lunchbox like Johnny, or Mary, or Susie. They all wanted to have their own little lunch boxes. And, in the later years, we found our participation did not stay as high as it did back in the late seventies because of that. Other things; you see, I installed salad bars in every school in the parish and they were extremely popular. When I left, they discontinued every one of them.
SJ: Money, they say. That is sort of, we don’t know. But, part of it, was that they had to cut some staff. And that was maybe some of it. But, that was a shame that they had to cut that out. They lost participation because of it. Because, at the salad bar, we let them choose. They could choose what they wanted. The strange thing was our students…the Managers…a lot of them…would put little signs up that said, “Take What You Want, but Eat What You Take.” So we would have students, because if they chose it, they ate it. They didn’t bring it back to the dish room. So, that was important to some extent. That is the danger of changing. Maybe, it was a good thing that I retired when I did.
MH: Now when did you retire? What year was that?
SJ: I retired in October of ’83…’93…I am sorry…2003! I retired at the end of October, 2003.
MH: I see, wow.
SJ: So it has been five years. It will be five years here pretty shortly.
MH: My goodness, so you have seen a lot of changes.
SJ: A lot of change, a lot of change. And I didn’t retire until…you see I had planned to retire at 65, and then after my husband was, I guess you would say he had a heart attack and wasn’t real well, I just kept on working. And I kept on working after he passed away. I really didn’t have a lot of health problems. I was in good health, even though I had a lot of health problems with the cancer and all.
MH: Were you a president of the Association?
MH: Of the American School…
SJ: Not the American…the Louisiana…
MH: The Louisiana School Food Service Association. Right. Okay.
MH: In 1987 you were the president?
MH: ’87-88. Where was the conference? Do you remember where the conference was? They used to rotate it.
SJ: Are you talking about the State Conference?
MH: Yes, State Conference.
SJ: The year I was president, it was Monroe.
SJ: And the year before when I was president-elect, it was Lake Charles. I planned the program for down there. We had Rosie Greer! He was a speaker. He was very popular…he was a good speaker. But he was very popular with the ladies. They really liked him. He was at that final luncheon we had on the last day of the conference.
MH: Oh yes. They always had some specific thing. Well, is there anything that you want to add anymore before we finalize this?
SJ: No, I didn’t know exactly what y’all were going to do. I didn’t realize you were going to be filming. I loved school lunch and the child nutrition program…still do. And always like to hear what is going on with them. I keep up with it a lot still.
MH: You made a lot of friends, haven’t you?