Feeding the masses: After 40 years, school cafeteria worker retires

Published 1:37 pm Tuesday, March 13, 2018

When Jean Patton was just 12 years old, her family was out setting tobacco on the farm. Her mother hadn’t the time to start lunch, so Jean rolled up her sleeves and got to work. She made fried chicken, cornbread, mashed potatoes and more. All from scratch.

“Someone said ‘this cornbread’s awful,’” Patton said. “And Dad said eat it anyway.”

It was Patton’s first time ever making cornbread, but ever since, she hasn’t stopped cooking.

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“(My cornbread) now must be pretty good,” she said. “I can’t seem to make enough of it.”

Eventually, Patton’s passion for food turned into a career.

But after 40 years, Patton has hung up her apron and retired from her role as a manager with the Clark County Board of Education.

“It was time,” she said.

Now, she’s going to spend her days doing nothing, she laughs. Or perhaps, reading, gardening and volunteering.

Patton was born in Clark County, and grew up on a farm in Trapp. She was a part of the first class that graduated from the then new George Rogers Clark High School in 1964.

Patton first got her job with the schools while her mother was a manager at the high school for 37 years. One day, Patton’s mother needed some extra help manning the cash register until they could find a replacement. But somehow, Patton never left, and worked herself up.

Over the years, Patton saw her job and the schools change. She stopped making the menus, and instead had to go by the government regulations. She stopped making everything from scratch and had to start using pre-made food.

“It’s nothing like it was whenever I first started,” Patton said.

One of the hardest parts was just making sure the kids had what they needed, she said. But her job was always worth it.

“The kids made it so enjoyable,” Patton said. “For some kids, that was the only smile they’d see that day.”

Some days, she’ll see kids around town, and they’ll smile and say, “hey, that’s my lunch lady.” Patton smiles back.

Her favorite days were the holidays, where she could put in the extra effort such as Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Easter or Mardi Gras.

Outside of her job, she was active with the Kentucky School Nutrition Association, and always volunteered and helped organize Relay for Life. Patton said relay was always near and dear to heart especially after her husband of 47 years died of cancer after fighting it for three years.

“He was my rock,” Patton said. “Anything I tried new, he’d always sample it and tell me if it was good or not.”

One of Patton’s favorite dishes to make is any and all desserts. She keeps a ton of recipe books, she said.

“I got enough recipe books to supply Clark County, probably,” Patton said. “My husband always said he was going to have to build me a room for all my cookbooks.”

Patton said she’s always had trouble cooking for a small group of people. A testament her children seconded. Patton has three brothers, four kids, seven grandkids, five great granddaughters, and on top of that, she’s used to managing a kitchen about 800 students.

Nick Krantz, Patton’s son-in-law, said Patton would always feed everyone after church.

“We’ll sit there and be at church, and come back home and she has a bountiful amount of food,” Krantz said. “You’re like ‘how the hell does she do it?’”

Patton just wants to make sure everyone was fed. She never wanted to let any of the kids at school go hungry, her children Cindy Calvert, Buddy Patton and Jennifer Krantz chimed in.

“She always put others before herself,” Calvert said, tearing up. “She is always loving, generous and kind.”

About Lashana Harney

Lashana Harney is a reporter for The Winchester Sun. Her beats include schools and education, business and commerce, Winchester Municipal Utilities and other news. To contact her, email lashana.harney@winchestersun.com or call 859-759-0015.

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