Unsung Heroes: The true significance of what it means to be an HHS cafeteria worker


Ella Peabody

Peggy Steele deep in the organization, ready for another busy day.

Note: Each month, The Hilltopper Online will profile an “unsung hero” at Highlands High School.  The first profile is Nancy Gesenhues, cafeteria manager at HHS.

In a bright, sunny room, quiet but with the slightest shuffle of pans and light footsteps down the halls, women clean. Steam pours off the counters, escaping from scorching hot water; bubbles blow and mix with the water, creating an almost refraction of color. There is a peaceful feeling in the air, like the calm before the storm; but not for long. Much work is to be done, food to be prepared by the deadline, and energy to be burned up by the time the day is out. 

Often in life, the most important tasks go unacknowledged. Though they may seem ordinary, they’re truly the foundation of Highlands High School (HHS), keeping the entire school community going. Without a thought we take advantage of our resources, rushing through our day, not thinking about the people that dedicate themselves to taking care of us at school. But at the end of the day, who is there to take care of them? 

Nancy Gesenhues is the HHS cafeteria manager. She has worked at both the middle and high schools for 19 years. 

 Gesenhues explains what it’s truly like to walk in her shoes.

“It’s a 12 -hour- plus day,” she said. “I start at 5:00 am most days and stay until 5:00 or 6:00 pm.  I’m only supposed to work from 6:00 am to 2:00 pm.”

This isn’t just a one-person job.

It takes five to six people in the morning from 6:30 to10:30 to have the food ready for Tech Students and the first lunch.” 

Two more lunches follow that.

According to Gesenhues, the job does not get the recognition it deserves, though its impact is profuse.  

We have four new people this year, and they didn’t realize everything we do in the cafeteria. I think that’s true for a lot of people at the school. Our work is a lot more than just serving lunch. The list of tasks involved is too long to name.”

Not only many know about all the work done by cafeteria staff.

Freshman student Mayer Wiefering said, “I had no idea quite what was going on behind the scenes while I ate lunch.” 

This proves the school’s lack of reflection upon its fundamental resources. 

HHS Principal John Darnell said these individuals are essential to the school.

“The cafeteria workers are hugely important and do not receive the thanks they deserve,” Darnell says. “They feed more than 600 students each day. If you consider how many meals are served every day in Fort Thomas, our district runs the largest restaurant chain in the city.” Darnell adds that without our food service personnel, HHS would not function as well as it does.

Most of the time, however, their work is a thankless job. According to Gesenhues, “Only about 10 kids a day thank us.”  

Despite this, Gesenhues loves her job. Her devotion to HHS is all the result of her pride. She even enjoys her commute to HHS, watching the many deer of Fort Thomas crossing the road each morning. She gets a thrill out of seeing kids laugh at lunch and being a part of that immense joy being exchanged through lunch trays, the laughs over spilled condiments (even though sometimes annoying). 

And, of course, Gesenhues is honored to know that she is not only vital to HHS but a leader of heroes, maybe not in capes with superpowers, but with a more indispensable power, the ability to care. 

“I absolutely adore what I do at Highlands.”