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Dining services retirees see the future of dining at UNT

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Article Originally Published by Hannah Johnson on North Texas Daily

Article Originally Published by Hannah Johnson on North Texas Daily

Since 1996, 13 retirees from UNT Dining Services Department have stayed friends and gathered together throughout the years. On Tuesday, the group held a mother-daughter luncheon at the university’s new Eagle Landing dining hall. 

Many of the women worked at UNT in the late ’60s and ’70s with the group’s ages ranging from 71 to 94. Five members of the group have died leaving eight remaining: Jean Aboulela, Kathy Butler, Wanda Lowe, Mary McCutcheon, Martha Phillips, Barbara Roeder, Joan Dawson Reiger and Ruth Samuel. 

“It was a great place to work with wonderful people to work with,” said Mary McCutcheon, former cafeteria head and director from 1988 to 1995. 

The group is known as “Rachel’s Retiree’s,” named after Rachel Mays, former director of the dining services. Mays was director until retiring in 1987.

During her time in the role, she put the university’s dining services on the map through the National Association of College and University Food Services. Mays served as vice president of NACUFS and helped the university garner national recognition for the dining services department. 

Wanda Lowe, former manager and associate director of dining services, said Mays took a chance on her as a newly divorced mother of four. 

“Rachel hired me when nobody else would,” Lowe said. “If she had asked me to walk to the moon, I would have tried.” 

The retirees said Mays’ mix of compassion and toughness has made dining services what it is today. She also instilled this drive into members of the group. Mays died in 2016, but the group still meets to honor and continue her legacy. 

“It’s a very special group,” said Barbara Roeder, former manager of the office and administrative assistant to the director. “We come together and we just pick up where we left off.” 

Roeder is the so-called instigator of the group. After moving to Donna, which is on the border of Texas and Mexico, the group would wait for her to come in town to meet. McCutcheon said Roeder has organized their meetings since 1996 and the group could not have met without her. 

Roeder said the group reflects fondly on their time in the department. 

“Back then we had so many parties,” Roeder said. 

The group spoke of the tea parties and theme nights held in Marquis Hall. Linda Cole, Roeder’s daughter, recalls being mortified to sing and play piano with her sister at the department’s Christmas parties. 

However, over the years, the dining department did not remain stagnant. McCutcheon started the department in 1962, and when she was first hired, the dining halls had the choice of one meat, two vegetables, a salad and dessert on a single serving line. Before it contracted with a local packing plant, the department also made the burger patties, cut the pork chops and peeled the potatoes and onions on its own.

“It’s quite a change,” McCutcheon said. 

Mays and other directors such as Sadie Kate Bass and McCutcheon have set up the future of dining services. McCutcheon said Mays was never scared of change and always worked to find what could be improved within the department, and Eagle Landing is proof of this. 

Eagle Landing is dining services’ new dining hall located between the UNT Welcome Center, Business Leadership Building and Highland Street Parking Garage. The hall boasts seven concepts from Latin fusion to grill-fired burgers and has an efficient kitchen with fresh produce. 

Peter Balabuch, executive director of dining services, started in the department as one of Lowe’s student workers. By working with Balabuch, Lowe, McCutcheon and the other retirees from the department are still impacting the university’s dining. After they were given a tour of the new dining hall, many of the retirees said they were overwhelmed and in awe of what has been created. 

“[Eagle Landing] is amazing — it really is,” Lowe said. “We’ve come a long way.”

Featured Image:Retirees from the UNT dining service department attend a Mother-Daughter luncheon at Eagle Landing on July 13, 2021. Image by Zach Thomas

Source: North Texas Daily

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