Servers dish up smiles

By Sara Adams

No matter how stressful a day may seem, students living in NIU residence halls should know that there are people who look forward to seeing their faces every single day – NIU food service workers.

It’s the students that bring Linda Gustafson, a cafeteria worker in Stevenson Hall, into work every day.

“Most people I talk to in food service agree – the kids are what keep you going,” Gustafson said. “You get attached to them and it seems like as soon as you’re getting to know them, they’re going off into the world.”

Gustafson has been watching students come and go from the dining halls for the past 14 years. For 10 years, Gustafson worked in Grant dining before moving over to Stevenson. During her time at NIU, Gustafson has seen a lot of peculiar things, but one instance sticks out in her mind.

“I was working at [The Corner] and two kids came in with handkerchiefs across their faces,” Gustafson said. “They took pop and chips and started running out the door. I yelled, ‘Get back here! If I have to get off this stool …’ but it turned out it was just a joke, and they were videotaping it for a class. We were actually pretty good friends after that.”

When she’s not working the cash register in Stevenson, Gustafson likes to cook and clean, work part-time at the library and read romance novels.

Before coming to NIU, Gustafson babysat children in her home.

“I think I’ve raised half of Malta,” she said.

After working in the Stevenson food court for some time, Gustafson has also had her share of experiences with the food.

“My favorite food is probably the stir-fry,” she said. “I like the specialty sandwiches and the burritos, too.”

Chances are, if students have tried any of those three meals, they have met Sandy Carey, a cook in Stevenson dining. Before coming to work for NIU five years ago, Carey was a dietary manager in long-term care. Like Gustafson, Carey enjoys getting to know all of the students she cooks for. She says her favorite part of the job is learning about the diverse students on campus, although she is sometimes surprised by the clothing that some students choose to wear.

One thing Carey does not enjoy about her job is the fact that it is not year-round.

“It’s hard to run a household working eight months a year,” Carey said. Carey has two adult children, as well as a husband and a dog at her home in DeKalb. In her spare time, she enjoys fishing, sewing and reading. The food service hours have made Carey give up another hobby of hers: darts.

“From about 1992 on, I went to Vegas once a year and shot darts with a team,” Carey said. There, she was involved in world competition against teams from countries such as Finland and Germany.

While both Gustafson and Carey have enjoyed their time at NIU, their retirement plans don’t include food service.

When Gustafson retires, she would like to travel by car through the United States.

“I’ve seen a lot of states,” she said, “but I haven’t seen all of them.”

Carey, however, plans on continuing what she’s doing now in her retirement, including volunteering at the DeKalb Veterans of Foreign Wars with her husband. She also plans on returning to her passion for darts.