After waking up on school days at a quarter after six, putting on her hairnet, running the water, wiping the counters and preparing food for students for 24 years, Robin Johnson is set to retire Dec. 31.
“I’m going to miss it,” said Johnson, cook manager for Litchfield High School. “I’m going to miss the kids. Being as winter is coming now, I’m not going to miss getting up and starting the car and driving seven miles in the bad weather and stuff. I’ve come in snowstorms, and I have left in snowstorms.”
Johnson, a rural Litchfield resident, worked as a cook assistant in the Litchfield High School kitchen for 10 years before accepting the role as a cook manager. She has been preparing breakfast and lunch for the high schoolers, as well as catering to Kids of the Kingdom, Head Start and Wee Kids program during that time.
Johnson said she’s going to miss being around students, joking and having good conversations with them.
“With raising two boys, it seems like I get along good with the boys,” she said. “I have five boys that come in here right now. I call them the 'fantastic five' because they always come together. Especially when I can have fun with them. That’s what I’m going to miss.”
Johnson's work as head cook at the high school has made her a valuable memer of not just the cafeteria staff, but the school in general, according to Principal Jason Michels.
"Robin took a great deal of pride in providing quality meals everyday to our kids and she will be missed," Michels said. "We sincerely wish her all the best as she begins retirement in January and enters another chapter in her life."
Every so often — at the end of the day — Johnson finds time to sit with students and ask if they liked the meal, what their favorite meal was, or what she could improve. Johnson is a proponent of diversifying food options for students, but, she added, students’ favorite meal is Caesar salad.
“You know, we have Brussels sprouts coming now in November,” she said, “and that’s not a real popular vegetable, but it’s nice that they could try it. We’ve had it in years past. Our district manager has done a good job of trying to get different things on the menu. Things that kids probably have never tried before.”
Freshman Ryan Beckler said it's nice to see Johnson in the lunchroom.
"She's always friendly and happy to see (students) come," Beckler said. "And I always like to go and get seconds. Sometimes she even gives me a little more than the portion you should get for seconds. It's kind of sad to see her retire."
Tammy Housman, Johnson’s assistant cook, said she’s learned a lot from Johnson, and that she’s been fun to work with.
“(I learned) how to do the production sheets, do the ordering,” she said. “(Johnson) has taught me that stuff. It’s going to be big shoes to fit.”
Johnson said she believes people’s heart has to be in the right place if they want to work with students.
“People that work here, you have to have it in your heart to like the kids,” she said. “If you don’t like working at school and like kids, you shouldn’t be here. You have to like the kids. … You’re doing it for them.”
School officials have been interviewing for Johnson’s replacement, and she’s curious to know who it will be.
“They had seven people interview for my job,” she said with excitement. “I mean — in a way — it makes me feel good that somebody wants to be in charge and take my place. It makes me feel good to know that.”
Johnson said she won’t leave the new hiree helpless. She’ll be available to teach them the ropes she said, “Well, I’ll be at home.”
“Good luck for the next person coming in,” she said.