It is lunchtime at Lexington's Stonewall Elementary School and, just as she has for the past 50 years, cafeteria employee Ruby Allnutt is springing into action.
Allnutt — better known at the school as “Miss Ruby” — fills up a box with milk cartons, fills the silverware containers and makes sure there are enough condiments. She fills racks with snacks and puts water bottles in a big container.
She often cooks or bakes. She serves on the lunch line, always with her trademark smile. And then, when the children have returned to their classrooms, she empties all the containers that she filled earlier in the day.
Miss Ruby, 78, who on Sept. 1 celebrated her 50th anniversary as a Stonewall cafeteria employee, can’t imagine being anywhere else or doing anything else.
“I love my job. I just love to be around kids and work with kids,” she said. “I just can’t sit around the house.”
She went to work in the Stonewall cafeteria on Sept. 1, 1966. Back then, her job was baking and she even made hamburger and hotdog buns from scratch.
Now the food’s still good, she said, but “they send everything frozen.”
And there’s a focus on healthier food in school cafeterias.
“Now we have whole-grain dinner rolls and whole-grain cookies,” she said.
The students, she said with a laugh, “like the old stuff better.”
Pizza and the school’s annual Thanksgiving lunch have been student favorites through the decades, she said.
On her 50th anniversary, parents and co-workers gave her flowers and gift cards.
But her prized possession is a box of cards and letters from students.
“She’s worth a fortune,” said Terry Thompson, cafeteria manager. “She has the best disposition. She’s never in a bad mood. You ask her to do anything, she’ll do it. She’s a perfect employee and she gets perfect attendance.”
Co-worker Cory Collett, 27, said his late grandmother worked with Allnutt in the Stonewall cafeteria in the 1960s.
“She runs laps around all of us,” he said. “She’s good with the kids. She loves being here. I guess that’s why she’s stayed for so long.”
Diane Seale, school district child nutrition supervisor over Stonewall and other elementary schools, said Allnutt wears a smile every day.
“I think she’s perfectly happy that she’s been here 50 years,” said Seale. “She may stay 50 more.’
Miss Ruby said she never thought she would work at Stonewall’s cafeteria for 50 years.
“It doesn’t seem that long,” she said. “You’ve just got to like what you do. You’ve got to love your job and the people so that it’s something to look forward to, getting up every morning.”