It’s not uncommon for Providence parents to be working in the classrooms, offices and other areas at school. Some work here for the few years their children are students here, while others start during that time but then continue in their positions for years following. Most have experience or education to match their positions. The cafeteria staff, however, boasts more than half of its staff with college degrees not put to use while they are serving lunch.
But these women, who hold degrees in mechanical engineering, business management, nursing, occupational therapy, logistics and elementary education, are working right where they want to be. Working as one of the Lunch Ladies, as they call themselves, enables each to be on her children’s schedule and work in a fun environment. The job is hard work as they prepare, serve and clean up from providing lunch for about 450 students each school day. But they have a good time doing it, each one said.
“It’s so much fun,” said Mrs. Maria Johnson Agtuca ‘79, mother of Amanda ’13 and junior Aaron. “It doesn’t feel like work. I’ve never had a job like that where you look forward to going to work. It’s always full of surprises.”
Mrs. Agtuca has degrees in business management and nursing. After working in banking and in a psychiatry office, she left full-time work to be on her children’s schedule. She volunteered in the St. Paul School cafeteria when they attended there and then waited for an opening at Providence to join the staff here two years ago.
Mrs. Donna (Bolly) Burke ’83 is in her third year working in the cafeteria. She had previously been a substitute teacher at St. Anthony, where her students went to grade school. She joined the staff when her son Hayden, now a junior, was a freshman. Her youngest, Aaron, is a freshman now, and her two older children have already graduated, Justin in 2006 and Renee (Burke) Kruger in 2010.
“I tease Hayden that I’m going to follow him to college,” Mrs. Burke said. “I worked at St. Anthony when he was there, and I came here when he was in high school.”
Teasing her son aside, Mrs. Burke said she has no plans to leave because she enjoys working here so much.
Mrs. Jody (Cooley) Fitzpatrick ’81 also plans to stay after her son, Shawn, graduates in May. She first started two years ago when a part-time opening came in in the middle of the school year. She quit last year when she was invited to be a member of the Providence Board of Trustees. Then manager Mrs. Karen Hennessey called at the beginning of this school year to let her know there was a full-time opening.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick said she did ask her children if they minded if she worked in their school, but otherwise didn’t think twice about accepting and stepped off the Board of Trustees. She had been looking for part-time work and wasn’t interested in finding work in her previous career. She had been an occupational therapist but left that field when her older child, Maryann ’16, was born.
“I like the schedule,” Mrs. Fitzpatrick said of working in the PHS Cafeteria. “I like the camaraderie with other moms. It’s very social. The kids make it fun. They’re polite and seem grateful for the food we make.”
Mrs. Colleen Caylor is in her fifth year on staff. She has a bachelor’s degree in logistics from Penn State University and graduate credits in business from Carnegie Mellon. Before her children were born, she worked for IBM in Manhattan and for U.S. Steel in Pittsburgh.
When her oldest, Shea, a senior, was in eighth grade, Mrs. Caylor and her husband were concerned about the cost of sending their children here. So when an opening in the cafeteria came up, she jumped at the chance.
“I got to test drive it for a year, and I decided it was worth it and we wanted to spend the money,” Mrs. Caylor said. “I wanted my kids to be part of it.”
Mrs. Caylor said she likes the atmosphere here and the freedom to talk about God. She also likes working in the same building as her three children, which also includes junior Frank and sophomore Sam. She also doesn’t mind that she’s not using her college degree.
“This is my ‘I get to’ job,” she said. “It’s not the kind of job you have to do.”
There are several more cafeteria staff members who are parents of current students, although some in the past have been grandparents or other relatives of students here. Others are relatives or friends of Mrs. Hennessey.
Mrs. Debbie (Popp) Miller ’87 also started here before her son did. She left a 20-year career in nuclear medicine when her son, Trey, was in eighth grade at St. Anthony. Now he’s a junior here. Her story appeared in the March 11, 2015, issue of the eVision.
Mrs. Sarah Gahagen is following a similar path. She is new to the cafeteria staff and took the job this fall. She and husband Chris ’96 have four children, and she left the corporate world years ago to stay home with them because “my family’s more important than the long corporate hours,” she said.
Mrs. Gahagen has a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Notre Dame, where she met her husband, and previously worked in manufacturing in several different industries. Prior to working at PHS, she taught dance part time in the evenings but likes the day-time schedule here better, she said. Their children attend Our Lady of Perpetual Help, where her youngest is in preschool and her oldest is a sixth grader.
She said she and her husband are committed to Catholic education, having both had at least 18 years themselves, from grade school through college. But they had been wondering how they could afford it, and she had planned to look for full-time work when their youngest was in kindergarten. Now she has a job with hours that allow her to be a mom and with the potential to afford Providence tuition, especially since cafeteria employees receive a tuition discount for their students as do all faculty and staff.
“This (job) kind of feels like the answer to find the right balance and make it all work,” Mrs. Gahagen said.
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