Coworkers call her the “Mother of the Kitchen.” Some of the students she serves at Lonnie Jackson Academy and Rothschild Leadership Academy call her “Grandma” or “Auntie.” And she calls them all “Baby.”
No wonder, during last month’s Muscogee County School Board meeting, Annie Rogers received the Muscogee County School District’s monthly ABCD Award for service Above and Beyond the Call of Duty as they celebrated her 50 years as a culinary technician in the combined kitchen for those two schools.
Rogers, 84, said she is thankful that MCSD officials “thought a lot of me” to give her such recognition. “I appreciate everything they’ve done,” she said.
If the average of approximately 1,000 meals prepared per day is the rate for the entire half century Rogers has worked there, multiply that by 180 school days per year, and she has helped serve an estimated 9 million during her career.
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Rogers was born in Bullock County, Ala., where she was raised by her grandmother. She moved to Columbus when she was 18 to live with her uncle. Her first job was in the kitchen at City Hospital, now called Midtown Medical Center.
To better accommodate her home life while raising three children, Rogers sought a job with MCSD so she could work while they were in school and she could be off while they were off. Back then, Lonnie Jackson Academy was called Eastway Elementary School and Rothschild was a junior high and later a middle school.
Last month, the Ledger-Enquirer featured one of her children, Carolyn Gardner, who retired after 42 years as a custodian in MCSD, including the past 30 at St. Elmo, which has been designated as MCSD’s cleanest school in the district in each of the past two years.
Rogers smiled as she recalled saying the past few years that she would retire too. But she changed her mind each year because “I love my job.”
And she loves her job because “I love the children” -- even the ones who give her a rough time, such as the boy who one day didn’t like the lunch choices in front of him and insisted on waiting for the chicken.
She told him, “Baby, it ain’t ready right now.”
He replied, “Well, I ain’t moving.”
The teacher implored Rogers to give him something already prepared so the line could move along. Rogers responded, “I’m not going to make him take something he don’t want.”
Seeing and hearing Rogers take his side seemed to satisfy the boy. He finally agreed to end his holdout for the chicken and take an alternative option.
Rogers summed up her philosophy for dealing with difficult students: “You get more if you just relax with them. … We don’t know what they’re going through with at home.”
So if a student comes to the cafeteria late for breakfast, Rogers said, “I’ll go find them something. … They’re not going to study if they’re hungry.”
Some of the students she serves have parents Rogers also served when they were students, and she served some of the teachers when they were students as well.
“I’m thrilled and thankful to still be able as I am,” Rogers said. “A lot of my people are dead or gone that worked out here.”
To be a good cafeteria worker, Rogers said, you need to “come to work, do your job, do your best, keep everything clean, serve the children, and make sure everyone is taken care of.”
Rogers doesn’t cook much anymore; she mostly works in the serving line. But she still has a lot of energy.
Cafeteria manager Sheila Hartford said Rogers “runs circles around most of the young folks in this kitchen. She’s very proficient on the serving line. She serves more people on her line than the other girl on the other serving line. She’s very fast.”
Hartford called Rogers “irreplaceable.”
“Her customer service is off the charts” Hartford said. “She treats all the students as her children. … She treats them with love and care.”
Rogers shrugged off the compliments.
“I just keep myself busy,” she said. “I guess that’s what keeps me going.”