Robyn Wood can’t wait to take some time for herself this summer.
On Aug. 5, the Oregon School District’s food service director will retire, and for the first two weeks, she plans to sit in her backyard and absorb nature, taking life “a day at a time.”
“I’m a homebody,” Wood said.
Wood is one of three Oregon School District food service staff members retiring this year – one already has left – and they’re taking with them fond memories of their decades-long careers and life lessons.
Along with Wood, Bernie Schnadel, food service staff member, will retire June 13 after a 37-year career and Lori Lynch, having left last fall, worked in OSD food service for 17 years.
The staff members have served countless meals to keep OSD kids fed. And next week will be the last time youngsters go through their lunch lines before they are out for the summer.
Schnadel said she would likely spend time outside, too, tending to her garden and mowing her lawn, while also spend more quality time with her grandchildren.
Both said travel plans aren’t on their radar right now, but after working in an industry that’s undergone many changes in the last few decades, some time to unwind seems to wield priority over taking a trip.
Lynch did not respond to request for comments about her career or what she is doing now as she’s moved onto a new chapter in her life. Wood and Schnadel told the Observer Lynch was presumably enjoying her retirement.
Both Schnadel and Wood started their careers seemingly at the right time, under the right circumstances in their lives.
Schnadel’s kids were in school and she was looking for a part-time job. Wood had been a food service director at a Madison nursing home, but grew tired of all of her friends “passing away.”
“I saw this advertisement and I thought ‘Ohh, let’s try that,’” Wood said.
Wood then glanced at Schnadel, and recalled how she sat in on her interview.
“I don’t know how I got picked (to sit in), but I did,” Schnadel said, smiling at Wood.
“And then out we go together,” Wood said, smiling back at Schnadel.
Schnadel said that one of her neighbors urged her to try “getting into the kitchen” at school. She started out at the Red Brick school, now the Gorman Building. Every two weeks, she rotated to the junior high at the time, now Prairie View Elementary School.
Both Wood and Schnadel reflected on just how much has changed since they started working in food service – for one, Oregon School District, like many districts just a few decades ago, didn’t serve breakfast in schools.
They both said people are more conscious of what they eat now and there have also been many technological advancements to make their jobs easier. For one, everything is computerized now, Schnadel said.
She starts her day by setting up computers. Schnadel said when hamburger meat used to come in rolls and kitchen staff members would have to manually cut them up to serve. Now, the meat comes in frozen patties, ready to heat up and serve.
Wood and Schnadel said there remains an even balance between how much food the school makes from scratch for the children and how much has become industrialized.
Schnadel works a seven-hour shift, while Wood works around 10 hours a day, starting in the morning answering phone calls and addressing “whatever mess is left on my desk from the day before.”
As food service director, she does a lot of problem-solving from troubleshooting a machine in the kitchen that breaks down, answering inquiries from parents, and of course – receiving hugs from the students she serves.
Schnadel, meanwhile, sets up the computers and gets the dishwasher ready to go at the start of her day.
“(Then) I look at the menu and then I end up going into the freezer,” she said. “I’m usually the person that trays the food (by lunchtime).”
Schnadel said she mainly assembles food on trays for Oregon Middle School and Brooklyn, also taking care of getting vegetables ready for those schools.
“There’s just all kinds of little odd things,” she said. “You constantly have to be looking ahead – to thaw things out.”
Toward the end of her shift, she puts the dishes away and helps clean up the kitchen.
In all their days as food service staff members, they both said they’ve learned a lot. Wood said one of her takeaways is you can’t please everyone, but serving food to kids who might not have it at home makes it worthwhile for her.
Schnadel said she’s seen it all and recalled a time when working at the middle school when she found out students were taking homemade cookies and putting them underneath their plates on their trays to save for later.
Wood then glanced at Wood, laughed and said, “I’ve told Bernie to write a book.”