Frances Yates Reflects on 33 Years As Head Dietician At Eastern High School
Writer / Carrie Vittitoe
Frances Yates (93) of Middletown started working in the food service business when she was just a teenager. At 14 years of age, she helped her parents run Chick Inn and the Pine Room, both of which were located on River Road near her home.
“I just liked the people. didn’t work for the money,” she says. She brought carryout orders to patrons waiting in their cars.
It was at the Pine Room that Frances eventually met her husband, Chester Sr., when she was 18. They married and had their first son, also named Chester.
After their second son, Bob, was born, the family moved to Middletown. When Bob was in elementary school, a friend from church began asking Frances if she’d like to work in the cafeteria at Eastern High School, which was founded in 1950.
“I substituted for six months, and then they hired me,” she says.
As the head dietician, she was able to create the menu of what the students were fed for both breakfast and lunch.
“A lot of times I didn’t know what I was gonna serve that morning,” she says.
She would arrive each day around 6:00 am to prepare coffee and start biscuits from scratch. As the morning progressed, she would begin to make apple or cherry pies, which were frequently the desserts of the day. Some Eastern students would often come in to help Frances.
Frances had a staff of 11 people who worked with her to serve both breakfast and lunch to students. While Frances finished breakfast, her staff would begin lunch preparations. Lunch began at 11:00 a.m. and finished at 12:15 p.m. Cleanup continued until 2:00 p.m., although Frances’ rule for the kitchen was to clean as you went so that it wasn’t so overwhelming at the end. During her many years at Eastern, the cafeteria routinely earned a 98 percent rating on spot health department inspections. The floor stayed so pristine, Frances would swipe it with her hand to show just how clean it was.
When students came into the cafeteria for lunch, Frances made sure there were plenty of options to choose from.
“On one end, we had a salad bar with 52 items,” she says. “We had pizza and french fries on the other end with a vegetable and dessert. On the next line, we had spaghetti and meat sauce, salad, rolls and dessert.”
There was usually a fourth line with fried chicken or sandwiches.
“They gave them a lot of latitude close to when she was retiring with the menu. It got to the point when it was almost like Golden Corral,” Bob says.
Both Bob and Chester Jr. attended Eastern during Frances’ tenure there, although they didn’t always love having their mom in the building.
“When I got in trouble at school, she heard about it before I ever got home,” Bob says.
“They didn’t go through my lines,” Frances says. “They didn’t want special attention.”
Bob’s friends, on the other hand, made a beeline to Frances.
“They knew they’d get a lot more food if they went through mother’s line,” he says.
In addition to food preparation, Frances had to complete the necessary paperwork to order food and keep track of monies.
“I had an awful good bookkeeper,” she says.
“When she took over as dietician, almost every lunch room in Jefferson County was losing money,” Bob says. “It’s not a very profitable part of the school. She brought hers up to be solvent and kept it that way until she retired.
Frances knew the power of bacon grease and butter to flavor foods so that she could get a lot of mileage out of what her staff cooked for students. But Frances and her kitchen staff didn’t just feed the students and teachers. Frances says one time the local health department arrived, and she asked if they’d like anything for breakfast.
“They said, ‘Yeah, what do you have?’ I said, ‘Well, we’ve got biscuits and gravy, sausage, scrambled eggs, cereal, sweet rolls and orange juice,” she says.
The cost for this hearty breakfast was 90 cents.
Bob remembers when a student prank brought Frances more mouths to feed.
“Some kid had a firecracker and dropped it in the toilet or something,” he says. “The arson squad came over because they thought it was a fire, and she ended up feeding the arson squad.”
Frances and her staff put on an annual Thanksgiving dinner the likes of which were unknown for a school cafeteria. They cooked 36 turkeys, and Frances sliced them all. Also on the menu was mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing, green beans, yeast rolls, cranberries, Jello salad and pumpkin pie.
“You waddled out of there,” Bob says.
Local senior citizens were invited to partake of the Thanksgiving meal at Eastern High School. Even when Bob was long graduated and working, he would invite colleagues to his mother’s Thanksgiving meals at the school.
Even though managing the cafeteria and feeding over a thousand students every day was a challenge, Frances had a good time. She has a photo of herself in a Halloween costume with one of the four principals she served under and points out her mason jar lid earrings.
“Ask me if I went through the line that day,” Bob says.
Frances was always a diligent worker, even when she was a teenager in food service.
“When you finish one job, you ask to do something else. I asked so much, [my boss] said, “Oh, hell, Frances. Do whatever you see,” she says.
And so she did. Her work ethic and dedication inspired others who worked with her, including six individuals who went on to become head dietitians at other JCPS lunch programs.
In 1984, when Frances retired after serving 33 years in Eastern High School’s cafeteria, Bob thought her dedication needed to be recognized.
“She had been there for such a long period of time,” he says. “I thought her contribution to the school was no less important [than the principals and teachers who had been recognized].”
He wrote a letter to Donald Ingwerson, JCPS superintendent at the time, requesting that the Eastern High School cafeteria be named after his mother. In his letter to Ingwerson, Bob wrote: “I feel that her record more than speaks for the devotion to the Jefferson County School System but, more importantly, shows her genuine concern for the students.”
Along with her sons, Frances is considering establishing a culinary arts award for a graduating Eastern High School senior. At this stage of her life, Frances doesn’t cook much, although she very much enjoys going out for a meal. After her many years of cooking for others at Eastern High School, she can appreciate someone serving her.