Serving Up Comfort

Monday, January 31, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:42 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

With Mom and Dad’s kitchen more than a few miles away, many MU students must come looking for their favorite foods from new parents in the residential dining halls.

Mary White, 52, and Adela Caratti, 41, are two such parents who wait for the kids to arrive. Both are servers at Eva J’s dining hall.

“When students graduate that I get to know, it’s like my child leaving,” White said.

Both have children of their own. White has a 32-year-old son, Joe, and Caratti has a 14-year-old son, Steven, and a 4-year-old daughter, Sophia.

“Adela and Mary are very personable,” said MU student Alicia Leimkuehler.

“They always say hi, talk to you and joke around,” said another student, Savanna Moll. “They really seem to care about us.”

Originally from Chillicothe, White, the youngest of six children, moved to Columbia with her sister after losing her parents in 1960. She graduated from Hickman High School in 1970.

Looking for a job, White responded to a newspaper advertisement requesting a food service worker at Johnston’s dining hall, later known as Eva J’s. On Jan. 27, 1971, she started work at the dining hall and just celebrated her 34th year.

“I look forward to seeing what each day will bring,” White said. “Each day has a new experience, and you learn to be laid back and not let much upset you.”

White said she’s seen little change at Eva J’s. She said the biggest change she has seen is growth in menu selection, with new items such as Mexican tortilla soup and German chocolate cake.

“Students today are spoiled,” White said.

White sports a pin celebrating her promptness for clocking into work daily, but her ride to work takes planning and preparation. Most days she rides

Columbia Transit to and from work.

She said some days she regrets not learning how to drive a car, but that does not stop her from going where she wants. Shopping at the Columbia Mall is one of her favorite things to do.

Caratti said her life revolves around her own children. “Anything my kids are doing, that’s my hobby,” she said.

Caratti is in her sixth year with Campus Dining Services. She said she started in a temporary job at Dobbs Pavilion and then moved to Eva J’s for about a year before starting to work full time.

“I really love my job,” Caratti said. “It’s the best place to go to work, be with friends, hang out with friends and know that you can still go home to be with your family after an eight-hour day.”

She said her role at Eva J’s is to stay out of trouble, but her favorite part is working with students. “(Students) don’t realize how much they mean to us,” Caratti said. “(They) start to be like part of my family since my family is so far away and your families are so far away.”

Caratti was born in Corpus Christi, Texas. Her family moved to Santa Rosa, Calif., when she was in third grade.

She said working with students brings a new learning experience daily. During her time as a server, she said she has learned dance steps, the different views of the Democratic and Republican parties and the ways different people interact.

For Caratti and White, students come and go, but their friendship continues to mature.

White’s fondest memory of their friendship was when she needed to take a television to her ill brother who was in a facility. She said Caratti volunteered to take her and the television out to him, and that meant a lot.

“She’s like the little sister I never had,” White said.

Caratti said she cannot wait to be like White one day. She said people can learn a lot from White.

“Miss Mary is one of the best people I’ve ever worked with,” Caratti said. “I will cry when she retires.”

Kathy Vanskike, Eva J’s assistant manager, said both women have an upbeat outlook on life. “They’re always trying to look for the good things in whatever happens.”

As the two continue their work, White said she is looking forward to more years at Eva J’s.

Caratti said no matter what, there is one thing in life she wants to instill in all of her dining hall children: “Be true to yourself because that is who you have to face eventually.”

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