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Serving up more than food

posted Oct 3, 2016, 7:06 AM by Chris Whitehorne   [ updated Oct 3, 2016, 7:07 AM ]

Judy McCaulley has spent most of her adult life cooking for Blount County students, an unplanned career that has brought her joy and fulfillment. Now the cafeteria manager at Heritage High School, she has cooked for students of all ages and spent time at a number of county schools.

She got her start at Chilhowee View Elementary School, where her children attended. When her children were young, McCaulley volunteered at their school. She was a stay-at-home mom with no plans to work outside the home. “Mrs. (Oleta) Green, the cafeteria manager, came and asked me if I’d be willing to work in the cafeteria. I wasn’t even looking for a job. She just came to my car. I was waiting for my children. “I told her I’d be willing to try, and I loved it. I’ve been here ever since.”

The county school system was changing at that time. All six community based high schools had closed with the opening of Heritage High School in 1977. The following year, William Blount High School, on the west end of the county, would open. With the opening of Heritage High, the county tried cooking at the high school and taking the food from Heritage to satellite schools. “They satellited food from Heritage to all these other schools,” McCaulley said. “Ms. Green tried it for a year, from Christmas on, and they weren’t pleased with it. Everyone wanted to do their own thing.”

After working at Chilhowee View, McCaulley spent time at Porter before becom - ing the manager at Hubbard. Later, she returned to Porter as the manager and spent the bulk of her career at that school, about 20 years. She was also the manager at Heritage Middle School and then moved over to the neighboring high school, where she is starting her fifth year. McCaulley had never worked in a high school and was nervous about working with the upper grades. Her concerns soon evaporated. “These are good kids. I like working with high school. You can see potential, and you can see them growing into adults. They’re reach - ing out for love, too. They liked to be welcomed in. They like the friendship you give them.”

McCaulley grew up in Walland and came from a large family that traces its roots to Cades Cove families, including the Cables. She has always loved to cook and learned from an early age. “I’m the oldest of nine kids,” she said. “I helped my mom. When I was in fifth or sixth grade, I won a first place in making cornbread in 4-H.” In September, she and her hus - band, Sonny, will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Although she’s worked a long time, she’s not ready to retire. “No. I love it. I just love it.” She’s learned that her “high school kids” are special, and she wants to continue finding ways to help them eat better while still providing the comfort foods they love, despite stricter federal guidelines. She feeds the students breakfast, offers a special coffee shop and provides an afternoon snack to the school’s athletes. “I love these kids here,” says Mc - Caulley. “The high school kids have their needs, too. Every group has needs. At elementary, they are more Mama-clingish, and they want to tell you everything. I think people think high school kids are adults. They’re not. They’re just children in big bodies. I love this age.”

By Bonnie C. Millard, Horizon