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July 16, 2024

The End of an Era

Longtime PDS lunch ladies retire

By Lyndsi Aaron, The Bolivar Bullet

Arlene Dreher, Sherry Vance, and Carolyn Hobbs, lovingly called “The Lunch Ladies”, at Presbyterian Day School decided it was time to retire this year after many years of tireless service.

Sisters Dreher and Vance used to cook for the youth at the First Presbyterian Church and when the school needed cafeteria managers in 1977, Myrtis Tabb and Jennifer Gatlin reached out to them about the open positions. 

“The kids asked for us,” said Dreher. “They asked if we would be interested, and we said we were very interested.”

Dreher said she went to workshops to make sure they were properly certified.

“She would take the test, and then she would bring the information to us,” said Vance. 

“Sherry and I started this together, and then she left and went to Cape Cod for three and a half years,” said Dreher. “I was so happy when she came home, and then that’s when Carolyn came to work.”

The ladies said they have mostly shared duties, but according to Vance, Dreher was always in charge. Depending on the day they would do whatever was necessary to get the food on the table for the kids. 

“We just shared every responsibility,” said Hobbs. “If we needed help all we had to do was just look up and someone would step in.”

Dreher was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but her family moved to the Delta before her sister was born. They eventually moved to Chicago before their father’s parents became ill and they moved back to Pittsburgh.

“I loved being there, but I also loved Delta State College,” said Dreher. “My mother was from the south, my father was from the north, and they met in Memphis. I had the best of both worlds. We’d come down here every summer, and I would just have the best time. I always loved the south.”

Dreher said she always told her mother she would go to Delta State. Although she did eventually start at Delta State, she never was able to finish her degree.

“I still love the college after all these years,” said Dreher. “I went to school to teach, but I didn’t finish my last year, and I regret that badly.”

According to Dreher, she worked at Baxter’s for a few years after marrying her husband, Harvey James Dreher. 

“After my second child was born, I quit working at Baxter’s to stay at home,” said Dreher. “Then I worked for Farm Bureau as a secretary for a while, but it was not my calling.”

Dreher said cooking runs in the family and she and her sister have always been called to the kitchen. 

“I’ve gone to all kinds of cooking schools,” said Dreher. “On the weekends and in the summers, I would always go to a different schools to learn various cooking techniques.”

According to Dreher, both her sons, Greg and Jeff, as well as her youngest grandson, Colby, attended PDS. 

“My other two grandchildren, Mason and Jenny Grace, went to Bayou, because their mother had gone there,” said Dreher. “I would have loved for them to have been here.”

Dreher said what drove her was the smiles of the kids each day, but the atmosphere was what kept the ladies walking into work with smiles on their faces each day no matter what. 

“My favorite part of the job over the years has been getting hugs,” said Dreher. “Then seeing a child that we can tell is having a rough day, and just giving them a hug. That was our joy, and I love to tease them. Just getting to see the plays, sneaking into chapel when we could. There are so many joys we will miss.”

Dreher said the school has always been a family that actually cares about each other. The have a list of people to pray for in the teachers lounge and they actively pray for those individuals. 

“It’s a wonderful community to work in,” said Dreher. “We can talk about the Lord, and not get chastised. We check up on each other, and if she’s feeling bad, I’m feeling bad, or if she’s feeling good, I’m feeling good.”

Dreher said she would never want to leave people in a lurch and not have food for these children because of her medical issues. 

“My body needs attention with the doctor,” said Dreher. “So, I’m going to have whatever surgeries or tests the doctors need. I’d love to be here 50 years, but it’s time right now to not hold the school back.”

According to Dreher, after she goes “to the doctor and gets new parts” she may consider going back to school at Delta State, but as of now she wants to focus solely on her health. 

“I have been working in the best place I could work,” said Dreher. “I’m around children, and we’re all so blessed being around these kids. We grow with them. They don’t realize what they teach us.”

Dreher shared she and Vance are both members of Covenant Presbyterian Church, and she is also a long time member of the Cake Decorating Society.

According to Vance, she was born in the Delta and she fell in love with Cleveland each summer when she visited as well. 

“I moved in with Arlene and couldn’t decide what I wanted to do,” said Vance. “I eventually took a job at a daycare.”

Vance met Alton when he came with Harvey to ask their dad for Arlene’s hand in marriage, but he went to fight in Vietnam soon after.

“Alton had just gotten back from Vietnam, and he was sitting in Harvey Dreher’s car out of Bob’s Drive-In,” said Vance. “We went to get a Cherry Coke, and he must have recognized me. He asked me for a date, and we started dating. Not long after that, he proposed, and we got married.”

After she got married, Vance said she began working at Baxter’s. Eventually she chose to quit Baxter’s to stay at home with her two boys, Rodney and Michael, until they were old enough to attend school.

“Both my boys went to school here, and I’ve been working here almost ever since,” said Vance.

When Vance got back from Cape Cod everything went back to the way it was.

“I missed Cleveland and my family so much,” said Vance. “I love Cleveland. That’s a fact.”

Vance has three grandchildren: Michael, Helen Claire, and Taylor, but they’re in the Pearl/Jackson area.

According to Vance, everyone at PDS works together for the common good of the children.

“That’s what made it such a good working environment,” said Vance. “It was such a good place to work. The children are good, and the teachers are wonderful.”

Vance believes everyone should be blessed like they were to have a job they love.

“One, you don’t mind getting up every morning and pushing yourself. Rain or shine,  barely sick, you will come to work, because this is the best place God ever created,” said Vance. “Somewhere you could work, enjoy the children, watch them grow up, make them laugh, and be with them.”

According to Vance it was just pure joy to come to work with the closeness and family atmosphere she felt. 

“It’s just like one big family up here,” said Vance. “Every person in this facility, from the janitor to the lady that helped with the milk had a good attitude. The children will make you laugh, and you can make the children laugh. You share their joys, and their sorrows.”

Vance said her favorite memories are the Christmas programs, the plays, valentines parties, and all the times the children would get excited and happy.

“We watched them from kindergarten to sixth grade,” said Vance. “The progression they made over the years, the improvements they made. Their wonderful personalities came out making us laugh as they were going down the hall. That’s a lot of wonderful memories.”

According to Vance, PDS has been their happy place for many years. 

“This job has been nothing but a total blessing all these years,” said Vance. “We’ve got a lot of memories that are really funny. We weren’t in it for the money, and we went home happy because we had such a wonderful time.”

Vance agrees they wouldn’t even consider leaving if it wasn’t for their health issues. 

Carolyn Hobbs, a Cleveland native and a member at First Baptist Church, was first asked to join the team after she had worked with Vance on the party committee for their children’s class. 

According to Hobbs, she loves Cleveland and is “just a small town girl”. Although she went to Pearman for most of her elementary school years, Hobbs said she was one of the first students to attend Parks Elementary when it was built, which was exciting at the time because they had air conditioners. Hobbs also attended Margaret Green Junior High School and Cleveland High School. 

“I did move off to Atlanta for a little while, about six and a half years, and then I came back because I missed it,” said Hobbs.

When she came back, Hobbs met her husband Johnny and they started their life together. She has two children, Janelle and Tripp, who both attended PDS, and three grandchildren, Darby, Parker, and Jenna. Although she would have loved for them to attend PDS, two of her grandchildren live out of town and one attended Bayou Academy.

Hobbs worked at Sherwin-Williams before she got pregnant with her second child and decided to stay home with him.

“She was a good person, and she had a good work attitude,” said Vance. “I hand-picked her because I felt like we could all work together well.”

Although Vance chased her all the way from the kitchen to the front door, Hobbs didn’t feel she could leave her son who was too young for school at the time. 

“I tried to go back to work after I had him, but he was not a nursery baby,” said Hobbs. “He cried all day long, every day. I decided that wasn’t worth it to work and him be miserable.”

After her son became old enough to attend school in 1986, Dreher and Vance started asking Hobbs again if she would like to work with them. 

“We didn’t really know each other that well, but it didn’t take long,” said Hobbs. “I needed to work, they asked me, and I started pretty soon after that.”

Hobbs said when she was young she thought she was so cool. She never dreamed she would be a lunch lady, but she truly believes God put her exactly where she needed to be. 

“He put me right here as a lunch lady with two goody-goody two shoes,” said Hobbs. “I never thought that I could love something so much. It’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.”

Hobbs believes she got two of the best friends she has ever had out of this job.

“I’ve got a lot of friends, but us three know each other better than anybody knows us,” said Hobbs. “I love these two girls like family. I used to say I would pay them to let me come and work. Because I love, love, love my job.”

According to Hobbs, it’s not just a job, but instead a mission. 

“It’s acceptance and love,” said Hobbs. “It’s dedication to each other. Everybody needs friends like that. If it wasn’t for things we need to take care of with our health, we wouldn’t be leaving.”

Hobbs said the atmosphere is what always made her feel so welcome.

“It’s a family,” said Hobbs. “The Lord is here and blessing us every day with these children. Getting to be with them. Getting to help the children sometimes. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else ever. We’ve had such a good time of it.”

Making friends with people they may have never met otherwise is also a joy each of the ladies shared. The relationships they have made are very dear to them. 

“Now we have a lot of good memories,” said Hobbs. “We’ve got real big personalities, but to me, my memories were mostly all the fun we’ve had together. All the laughs we have had. We can just laugh talking to each other.”

According to Hobbs, every moment was a good memory.

“I just need to get some health issues taken care of,” said Hobbs. “I’m not thrilled we’re leaving. I wish we could stay, and it hurts to have to do it, but it is definitely time.”

Dreher said they have been lavished with gifts for the last few weeks leading up to their retirement including; hats, paintings, McCarty’s dishes, and so much more. They also had the annual dedicated to them, and the decision was unanimous. 

“We had the most wonderful retirement parties of anybody I’ve ever heard of,” said Dreher. “One day we came in before we had May Day Play Day, and every one of the teachers had an apron and a hat. That’s such great memories for us. We’ve just been so blessed.”

“Without the support of this church, the school board, and all the wonderful teachers, parents, and children none of this would have been possible,” added Vance.

One thing all the ladies agree on is they have been immensely blessed to be lunch ladies. They have touched many lives, including mine, with their joy and unfailing love for the Lord. They feel blessed by God to have been given the opportunity to love all the children that have graced the halls of Presbyterian Day School here in Cleveland, Mississippi and would like to give all the credit to Him. For they would not have been able to do anything without the one who gives them strength.