Serving liquid salvation for 22 years

COFFEE QUEEN: Deanna Pope has the longest food service career on campus.

Chances are, at one point or another, you’ve passed by her while walking through the galleria in the Gordon Willey building. That cup of Tim Hortons coffee you got on your way to the dreaded 8 a.m. lecture might have even been prepared by her.

You may remember her face but you might not know her by name. She is Deanna Pope and she has been at the school for 22 years, which makes her the oldest working employee for food services on campus.

She has seen countless changes in Oshawa, having been born and raised here, as well as the changes right here on campus. She’s one of the first ones to arrive on campus, 6:45 a.m. to be exact, from Monday to Friday.

She enjoys seeing former students who now have their own families. “I’ve been here long enough that some of their kids are coming to the school,” she said.

Oshawa isn’t what it used to be when Pope was growing up. There weren’t many options for girls in terms of profession.

After her parents divorced, it was just her mom and two other sisters in the family. Pope left school after completing Grade 9 to start working at a factory to support the family.

“I would’ve never had the money to go to school and girls didn’t go to college too much then, it was very different,” she said. And she has been working ever since, 45 years and counting.

Pope has been involved with the food industry for a very long time. Before working on campus, she worked in food service at the GM plant but she wanted a change of pace and liked the idea of working at a school and having summers off, which is why she started working for the school.

“When I first came, the Willey building was just the little square building in the middle. Since I’ve been here, they’ve added on here, they’ve added on down there, they’ve added on every place,” she explained.

Over the years she has been employed here, two different companies have owned contracts for food services and Pope got rehired each time. With the most recent contract with Aramark, she even had to do an interview. Pope had never done an interview before then.

“You’d go in and say ‘are you hiring’ and they’d say ‘yes, can you start tomorrow?’” As contracts change, some employees don’t get rehired, but Pope did. It was her first interview but she got the job.

The people are what bring her back year after year.

“I like the students, I like coming in to work,” she said. She enjoys coming to work because she has great co-workers who make it a nice atmosphere to be in, and she misses work when off over the summers.

It isn’t all positive though. Violence on campus is one thing that concerns Pope. She has heard of girls getting sexually assaulted in broad daylight and even school shootings that resulted in lockdowns. All of these factors make her more cautious.

“Let’s put it this way, at one time I would’ve thought nothing of going out to the parking lot late at night to get my car. Now I would kind of think twice about it or look around.”

One incident that was especially stressful for Pope was when she thought a student would assault her.

“He wanted to have a pita at 8 o’clock in the morning and we just didn’t make a pita at 8 o’clock in the morning,” she said. “I was trying to explain to him that we just didn’t do that and he told me that if I didn’t give him one he would hit me in the face.”

She’s not bitter about it though. They eventually managed to calm the student down and later realized he had a disability. The student was banned from the cafeteria.

But she feels safe most of the time.

“I would say 99 per cent of the students aren’t like that. You have the odd one,” she says.

After her shifts ends, she goes home and spends time with her mother every evening.

“I’m the entertainer,” she said with a chuckle. They like to watch TV and eat supper together, even though her mother talks all the way through the shows.

Pope hopes to continue working on campus for many years to come but next year she has something special to look forward to. A face familiar to her will be among students she interacts with everyday. Her granddaughter’s, who is coming to study at Durham College.