BACK IN TIME: Frances Chesser honored for work in school cafeteria

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Editor’s note: Bloomfield resident Margie Stephens recently contacted The Spencer Magnet and asked us to rerun the following article, which originally appeared in April 2002, in honor of her friend Frances Chesser. The article appears as it ran in 2002 and The Magnet acknowledges some of the information may be out of date.

When Frances Chesser began working in the lunchroom for the county’s only school back in 1962, she didn’t think she’d be working in same kitchen long enough to celebrate a 30-year anniversary, but she did.
Now, at the age of 74, Chesser is bidding her farewells to not only her fellow cafeteria crew but her present and former students as well.
Chesser has served countless kids through the lunch line at what is now known as Spencer County Middle School. Back in ‘62, when Chesser was first hired on by the board of education, the middle school building was the only school building in town for all three Spencer schools.
She served everybody from that line, from the age of 5 to 20, not to mention the faculty and staff.
“When I started working here, we were only paid $5 a day, and we were glad to get that,” Chesser said. “We served the lunches out of dish pans. And we fixed everybody a plate; they didn’t have choices like they do now. We made our own jelly. We saved the juice from the fruit we had to make the jelly, and we set it out on all of the tables. Of course, we didn’t have as many to feed back then.”
Chesser and the rest of her co-workers even had to wash their own dishrags and towels on a washing board. They hung them from a line in the kitchen. That’s hard to imagine.
“Oh yes. Things were different back then,” she said. “Mr. Walker was the superintendent back then, and he made sure we kept all of the plates hot. If the plates weren’t hot when he came by, you were going to hear about it.”
Chesser’s cafeteria also served the African-American students, who went to school in a building that had no kitchen.
“[Before desegregation in the schools] the black students came over from their school on Salt River to eat after the white students were done eating lunch,” Chesser said.
Chesser has seen quite a few things change in the county, all from behind the counter in the lunchroom.
“This is the first year I haven’t had a child, grandchild or great-grandchild going to school here,” she said. “I guess that’s why I’m retiring,” she laughed.
That’s right, this is Chesser’s last year to wear the apron in the middle school. She has worked longer than any other cafeteria employee in the county, though she did take a little time off after her children were born and during the time she underwent surgery. She has been working consecutive years in the cafeteria since 1984.
Rosie Hilbert, the cafeteria manager, who was once herself served by Chesser, said the cafeteria staff named Wednesday, April 17, [2002] “Frances Appreciation Day.”
From the walls of the cafeteria hung pictures of Chesser from throughout the years. with her family and her students.
And in honor of “Frances Appreciation Day,” one of Chesser’s co-workers. Sharon Curtsinger, nominated her to be an angel for Louisville WAVE 3’s “Angels Among Us.”
Every Wednesday, WAVE 3 recognizes one of its nominees as an angel. Last Wednesday, Chesser was selected.
Shannon Davidson of WAVE 3 came out to interview Chesser, and the spot aired on the evening edition of WAVE last Wednesday evening.
In order to qualify for the angel honor, the nominee has to be a humanitarian who has made a difference in her community.
Curtsinger said Chesser definitely fit the bill.
“You have to be a humanitarian and I knew Frances was the right one,” Curtsinger said. “1 had seen the show [“Angels Among Us”] before. All of the kids here call her ‘grandma,’ and I’ve never seen her let a child go through her line without eating. If one of them didn’t have enough money that day, Frances would pull change from her pocket and cover their lunch, She’s just a great person.”
Chesser said it was “great” to be honored, and she was definitely surprised.