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Swan song for Ashmore, Kennedy

By DIANE GASPER-O’BRIEN
dobrien@dailynews.net

Cooking in large quantities was second nature to Joyce Ashmore while raising a family of six children in Hays.

Or so she thought. Ashmore got a different look at that kind of task when she started cooking at Kennedy Middle School in the mid-1980s.

She soon found out feeding 775 children in kindergarten through eighth grade is a lot different than preparing meals for a large single-family home.

In addition to cooking for Kennedy students in sixth through eighth grades, Kennedy staff also served students kindergarten through sixth grade in what then was St. Joseph Elementary School across the street.

But her love of working with children — Ashmore ran a day care in her home for several years before taking the Kennedy kitchen job — has kept her going for nearly a quarter of a century.

“I like the challenges,” said Ashmore, who is set to retire at the end of June after working the past 14 years as cafeteria manager at Holy Family Elementary School.

“And,” she added with a smile, “it was a challenge to serve almost 800 kids every day.”

That 10-year experience prepared Ashmore for the next step in her profession.

Students moved from St. Joseph across town to the former Jefferson Elementary School building in 1998, and the school was renamed Holy Family.

Ashmore said she got a call from the pastor at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, adjacent to Holy Family, asking if she would be the cafeteria manager for the Catholic elementary school.

Ashmore once again welcomed the new challenge and said, “Yes.”

Ashmore found herself sitting at a desk more often, with new responsibilities. One of those was delegating the cooking to others.
“Your staff is your right arm,” she said, “and I have a great staff.”

However, Ashmore still helps serve lunch daily at Holy Family.

“The first thing we have to do is feed the kids,” Ashmore said, sitting amidst a pile of papers on the desk in her office last week. “The paperwork can wait.”

Her husband, Al, retired from his job in the grounds department at Fort Hays State University in 2000, and Ashmore said it’s now time to join him.

“I told (HFE Principal) Jana Simon last spring when I signed my contract that this would be my last year,” Ashmore said.

Coincidentally, Ashmore’s last year coincides with Kennedy’s swan song. Hays USD 489 voted last summer to close Kennedy at the end of this school year.

The building is owned by St. Joseph Parish, and Ashmore, like others, hopes it eventually can be used for a Catholic middle school. Thomas More Prep-Marian High School will house junior high school students for the 2012-13 school year.

“It’s an older building, but it’s been well kept,” Ashmore said. “Hopefully, it can still be used.”