By Megan Cavanaugh
To a woman whose dedication to serving students goes beyond the normal, to a woman who refuses to retire because “these kids are my life,” to a woman who brings a smile to each student just by being in the cafeteria: we thank you for your service and hope you had a happy birthday.
Judy Hed has served with Bethany’s cafeteria, and Pioneer College Caterers now, for over 35 years and she is still going strong.
She first came to Mankato when her husband was transferred as plant manager for Johnson’s Fishing. Meanwhile, her two daughters and one son lived and continue to live in Port Washington, Wisc.
“I came up here and I didn’t know anybody and it was just awful for me,” she said. “My husband said, ‘Well, why don’t you find a part-time job to keep you busy.’ So I said, ‘Okay.’”
Hed came to Bethany because their apartment was close-by. She got a job working in the cafeteria. Although the first week was rough, she figured she would give it a try.
“After that first week I said, ‘Well, I’ll stay one more week.’ And now I’ve been here 35 years and I just don’t know where the time went,” she said.
Since moving to Mankato, Hed’s husband has retired and began working part-time at Land-to-Air, her children have had children—which are now graduated from college—yet she finds herself longing to stay in college, working in a college cafeteria, that is.
A normal day for Hed in the cafeteria is arriving at 5:45 a.m., preparing breakfast and setting it out, cleaning up breakfast and then baking dessert for lunch and dinner. When finished with baking and eating lunch, Hed leaves one job and heads to another.
Hed then cleans at Mount Olive Lutheran Church until 5 p.m.
She is grateful that her husband makes dinner so she can work these two jobs, for without these jobs, Hed would be lost.
Though her daughter wants her to retire, Hed doesn’t want to slow down, she wants to keep up with the students.
The students even oblige her by including her in activities.
One such activity is her annual bonfire that takes place in October.
“One day Mike Lendt (a former student) came in and said, ‘I wish we had a place to have a bonfire.’ I said, ‘Oh, you can have one at my house.’ ‘Really?’ he goes,” she said. “So I made hot dogs and beans. Thirty people must have come to the first one. The kids sat around the fire and made hot dogs and s’mores. Now it’s an annual thing.”
Until that first bonfire in 2014, Hed had never had a s’more before.
“They asked if I had had a s’more before and I said, ‘No, what’s a sah-moore?’ They made me one and it was really good,” she said. It was so good she had more than one.
Lendt and his friends took a liking to Hed and tried to help her in little ways.
“Michael and his friends, Joel, Jake and Scott, those boys, would come over and decorate my Christmas tree and offer to decorate every year,” she said. “They would even offer to cut wood.”
Lendt has since graduated, but whenever he comes back to Bethany, he often pays Hed a visit.
“My house is always open, so kids who come back to visit have come and stayed the night at my house. Michael has done that,” she said with a smile demonstrating a unique bond with Bethany students.
Over the years Hed has collected many memories of past students who now work at Bethany.
“Mary Jo [Starkson] came here as a student. She did the baking for me on the weekends and here she is now the registrar. Pete Bloedel would come through the line juggling his tray and now he’s a professor and his kids come here. Andy [Overn], Pete’s best friend, I could remember him coming through the line, he was so funny. Brian [Strom] wooed his wife right here in the cafeteria,” she said staring off into the distance, deep in a memory and a smile. “She had a lot of guys fighting to be with her, but I remember seeing Brian out here talking with her a lot.”
Time flies when you’re having fun.
Hed still gets letters from past students. She looks forward to hearing about the updates in their lives.
She doesn’t expect much on birthdays, it’s just another day, January 20, she hopes to see her students. This birthday is no different, though she turned 80-years-young.
“I don’t know what to talk about,” she said regarding birthdays, “I’m getting old.”
Nevertheless, there is always cake and singing in the cafeteria, her husband takes her out to dinner, all things that remind her that she is loved back.
That she is loved is an understatement. Annually, Bethay commemorates employees of five, 10, 15, etc. years of service. Hed remembers her most recent recognition clearly.
“After my name was called and I came up the students started clapping and they wouldn’t stop,” she said laughing. “It was the funniest thing. The president looked at me and made a face like ‘make it stop,’ and I just looked at the students and looked at him and shrugged like ‘I can’t help it.’ The clapping went on for a long time.”
Students’ admiration for Hed continues to go on, though many times unspoken. Throughout her 35 years of service so far, one thing is certain: there is only one and could never be another Judy Hed.