News Date: 
Friday, December 1, 2006

Source: The Red and Black

By Pearman Parker

Published , December 01, 2006, 06:00:01 AM EDT

Her welcome of “Hello, sugah,” and her good-bye of “You take care now, you hear?” brightened the days of students for 39 years.

But after her retirement Thursday, students at Snelling Dining Hall will not hear her kind words any longer.

She said her goodbyes amid the laughter and good wishes of her coworkers and customers.

“There have been ups and downs, but I hung in here, baby,” Mack said with a smile.

Mack said students never failed to treat her like family.

When one of her sons was critically ill and later died, many students came to visit her, bringing food and cards and offering support.

“It was just something, it was just something,” she said with tears swelling in her eyes.

“You just don’t know how it made me feel.”

She said she loved the hugs and kindness of all the students.

“I know I’m gonna miss it,” she said. “It means a lot to be hugged, and it really means a lot.”

“The students are just so great to me. I really will miss their kindness and love.”

Mack said one student even brought her roses and a gift card to Red Lobster.

Many students would bring little trinkets for Christmas or flowers, she added.

She wasn’t just great with the students. She was wonderful with her coworkers, said J. Michael Floyd, director of food services.

“She has a personal commitment to make the University a great place,” Floyd said. “Someone who has stayed in the same job for 39 years is a statement.”

Floyd said Mack would take new employees “under her wing” and “reinforce that it’s all about the customers.”

“Gussie is the name most people remember with food services,” Floyd said. “And she’s one of the things that makes our food services great.”

She comforted the customers on the bad days — whether they got a “Dear John” letter or failed a test, he said.

“On those bad days, that’s when she matters the most,” Floyd said.

Last week, her coworkers at Food Service showed Mack their admiration with a retirement party in her honor.

Many of the employees, some students and Mack’s family members attended the event to honor her heartwarming work with the University.

After a dinner with red velvet cake for dessert, Mack was presented with gifts from students and staff.

Because she loves to bake cakes, her coworkers thought it was only fitting to give Mack a KitchenAid mixer with stainless steel cookware and knives.

“It was just amazing, just amazing,” Mack said.

She said she may have even done a little dance.

“She was thrilled when that mixer came out,” said Bryan Varin, cafeteria manager at Snelling.

Mack spoke of how delicately the food was prepared and was really amazed at the detail and preparation of the banquet.

“It was just something, I just, I just, I can’t explain it,” she said. “The food was decorated and set up so pretty and set up so nice.”

Mack also was given a T-shirt from the football team, signed by all of the players.

“That was just something to really treasure,” she said. “It was just something, and I’m tellin’ the truth.”

One former student approached Mack and said how she helped change his life.

The student, who had been away from school for awhile, said he felt so welcome when she asked, “Where you been?”

“I just wanted to know where he’d been,” Mack said, laughing.

The success of the retirement party was more than she ever expected, she said.

While she will miss the students, she’s anxious to start her new life.

“My sister said we’re gonna ride, ride and shop, shop till we drop,” Mack said.

She plans on taking a cruise, even though she gets sea sick. She thinks she’ll be OK as long as she can forget she’s on the water.

As she goes on to enjoy her retirement, many students, faculty and staff will truly miss “Ms. Gussie,” Varin said.

“She was the heart and soul of food services.”