by Lisa Tome
When Kathy Thomas started working for the school system, she took a part time job for a few months after the youngest of her four children enrolled in kindergarten.
That temp job lasted 40 years.
Thomas, Supervisor for Food and Nutrition for Cecil County Public Schools, retires at the end of the month.
"I've loved every minute of it," Thomas said.
"People told me I'd know when it's time (to retire). It's time for somebody else to take a look. I've worked with good people and had great support," she said. "I'll miss the people I've worked with."
Thomas started working for the school system when her neighbor, Dot Ryan, recruited her. Thomas then began working in the kitchen at Rising Sun Elementary, serving lunches to children. "The profession chose me. I already knew about feeding kids. Back then everything was made from scratch - hamburgers, mashed potatoes, yeast rolls," said Thomas. "I didn't fill out an application until I had worked there for seven or eight months. We were a growing family and that little bit of income was helpful.
Less than a year later, Thomas moved on. She worked in the central office doing accounting for the nutrition department. She explained how the system worked 39 years ago. "We wrote out the lunch tickets and we counted things by making tick marks. Now we have tablets, computers, and PINs. We take payments online and are totally immersed in technology," she said.
She talked about how school meals have changed over the years. The constants have been pizza and the holiday turkey dinners.
"Everything works in cycles. It used to be that everything was made from scratch. Then they went to heat and serve which wasn't as healthy. Then, it's back to scratch cooking. Now, the industry makes healthy heat and serve foods. There are so many federal regulations about calories. When we started, we served whole milk and real butter. Now, all the milk is skim or lowfat. We don't even offer whole milk. And the sodium requirements get tighter every year," said Thomas. "You have to keep up. That's self education and through the state department (for food and nutrition). School meals are big business."
When Thomas started, there were no breakfast programs. Now, breakfast is booming and there are programs, Second Chance Breakfast, where students can eat between classes. Thomas said that has grown to 200 kids at Rising Sun Middle. More schools will get that program.
Thomas is proud of the work she has done over the years. She said she will miss her coworkers but won't miss the alarm clock. She will now be "more available" to her four children, 10 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren, and husband, Lynn. "We plan to travel but I want to adjust to (retirement) first. We've taken big trips in the past. We've been to New Zealand. Now big trips won't be so hard to plan," she said. She will also be in schools eating the food on special occasions as a guest of her grandchildren.
Scott Heckert, a school nutrition specialist who has worked for the county for nearly six years will replace Thomas leading the department.