Between Betty Zarn and Mable Hale, they have 81 combined years of experience working in the kitchen for Cut Bank Schools. There will not be any more years added to that nice-size number, as these two amazing ladies have decided it is time for retirement. Betty wrapped up her career in the school kitchen after 40 years and for Mable it was 41 years.
Before Betty started working for Cut Bank Schools, she was a stay-at-home mom to her and her husband Leo’s five boys, Jim, Jerry, Bill, Gary and Randy. But on Jan. 8, 1980, she decided to take a job working in the kitchen at Cut Bank Schools. She started at the high school and then moved to H.C. Davis Elementary School, which is where she retired from last spring.
Mable began her more than four decades working for Cut Bank Schools in August of 1979. She had moved to Cut Bank 19 years earlier. Her first job in Cut Bank was at two different bakeries. She worked in the Buttrey Foods bakery for 10 years and then in 1979, she was offered a job with Cut Bank Schools. While the pay was not exactly what she was making in her previous job, she liked the opportunity and decided to take the position working in the kitchen.
Both ladies started their workday at 5 a.m. and both are still on that “time clock,” waking up early, even in their much-deserved retirement. “It is hard to break that habit,” admits Betty.
A typical day at work for these gals meant they did a lot of food prep, getting everything ready to serve the children lunch.
When it was lunch time, they spent time serving the kids, loading up plates and trays. When lunch was over, it was time to clean up the kitchen, do the dishes and get ready for a new day, tomorrow.
Mable, thanks to her baking experience at her previous jobs, did a lot of the baking for the kids. She made rolls, bread and “dozens and dozens of cookies,” over the years.
“In the beginning, when we first started, it was pretty strenuous work. It got a little easier over time,” shared Mable.
Even though it was not easy work, they made it fun, and most of the fun came from working with people they really enjoyed.
“That is something I will miss, the people we worked with and the friendships we had together. I will miss the kids too. I loved being around the kids,” Betty said.
“It was a great job,” said Mable. “I met a lot of fantastic, beautiful people and all of us working in the kitchen, for the most part, got along pretty good. And I will certainly miss dealing with the kids.”
Mable remembers kids coming up to her at the grocery story and remarking “look mom, there is my lunch lady,” or “there is my cooker.” Smiling she said, “Those moments really tickled me and sure stayed with me.”
In 40 years of kitchen work and serving lunch, the ladies can certainly tell you what meal was a lunch-time favorite among the kids.
“Texas Sombreros were always a hit with the kids, as was spaghetti. The sombreros had Fritos in them and the kids really liked those. We used to make homemade cinnamon rolls, over 500 of them, to go with those in the early days,” said Mable.
Betty added, “Pizza was always a favorite too.”
The least favorite?
“A long, long time ago, the least favorite was lima bean casserole,” Mable confessed.
Mable and her husband, Jess, had four children, three of his from a previous marriage and one of hers was from her previous marriage. She has six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Betty was blessed with eight grandchildren, sadly one of those has passed away. She also has five great-grandchildren.
Both ladies plan on spending time seeing their kids, grandkids and great-grandkids in the years of their retirement.
And while Mable did a lot of traveling during her summers off and during her vacation days, while working, she does not have a lot of plans to continue doing that in her retirement.
“I loved to travel before and have been coast-to-coast and over to Europe, and places like Peru and have been to almost every fishing hole in Montana. The only place I would still like to visit is Ireland. So, I might take a few little trips, but nothing like I had done before,” Mable said. “I like to read, but other than that, I do not have any specific retirement plans.”
Betty does not have any plans either. One of her boys wanted her to move to Lewistown where he lives. “My one son wants me to move, but I like being here in Cut Bank and enjoy my neighborhood and the people I know. It is nice here,” she said.
In the midst of the pandemic, these two are not seeing each other as regularly as they did while working. They are, however, catching up via telephone calls every now and then. They share a bond and a 40-year friendship, and neither is going away anytime soon.
These two fine ladies will be missed in the kitchen at H.C. Davis Elementary School. They will be missed for the good work they did, for the laughs they brought to the kitchen and for the smiles they handed out every single day to a cafeteria full of kids.