May 31, 2022 at 2:17 p.m.
Elfering retires from Melrose school food service
Jan Elfering has served three generations of students during her 45 years working in the Melrose Area Public Schools food service department.
On May 31 she served her final lunch.
“I just thought it was my time,” she said May 23 after working her 3.5-hour shift. “I enjoyed getting out and meeting different people and visiting with students.”
It was thanks to her aunt, Laura Pflipsen, that she started working in food service in 1977.
“I took my aunt’s job at the school in New Munich,” Elfering said.
Once a Catholic school, it became part of the public elementary school system.
“I was the main cook,” she said. “At first we only had 60 students but we ended up with well over 100.”
Elfering and Dorine Revermann prepared and served meals, many made from scratch. That included chicken and dressing.
“We’d clean the chicken the day before and make the chicken and dressing that morning,” she said.
Elfering used her homemade dressing recipe.
New Munich school custodian Clem Bielefeld made daily trips to the Melrose public school to pick up groceries Elfering wrote on a list which were made into meals in the New Munich kitchen.
“I made everything from scratch, except they would brown the hamburger at the senior high kitchen for things like hotdishes, because I didn’t have a big enough stove, and they’d put it in five-gallon pails,” Elfering said.
She worked at the New Munich school 10 years, before transferring to the Melrose Area High School kitchen and eventually the elementary school kitchen.
There were familiar faces when she made the work-related move from the New Munich to Melrose, including a county food inspector who used to inspect the New Munich school kitchen also.
“One time he walked into the kitchen (in Melrose) and he said, ‘I know you,’ and I said, ‘I know you, too,’” Elfering said.
She was assistant cook for a while before becoming a food service assistant.
“I liked being assistant cook,” she said, laughing when saying it got harder because “I got older.”
The last few years working from 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m. was a perfect fit for her. The first years she worked from 7 a.m.-1 p.m.
She rattles off names of food service directors she worked for, including Bernette Petermeier-Finken, Renee Rich and Aaron Schmitz. And she has worked alongside many co-workers.
While she said school menus did not change too much over the years, COVID-19 changed how they served lunches.
“We’d pack 500 bag lunches a day,” she said.
She laughs when recalling one change.
“We had to punch in on a time clock, instead of writing our hours down,” she said.
Her duties that last few years have remained constant – preparing salads, putting the milk out, getting the serving line ready and serving the food.
“Whatever is needed,” she said.
She was responsible for testing each hot food product throughout the serving time to ensure it was the proper temperature and documenting it. That’s just what she was doing in-between serving students May 24, along with Kathy Bauer, Stacy King and Verna “Tweetie” Boeckers. She also made sure there was enough silverware and food trays for the students as they came through the line.
But that is now all part of her life’s history.
Elfering, 78, looks forward to retirement and spending time with her family, that includes two children Cindy Pundsack, of New Munich, and Dean, of Brainerd, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Her husband, Dwaine, passed away 25 years ago.
“In the summer I have a lot to do. I have flowers, and if I need anything from the garden, I go by my daughters,” said Elfering who lives in New Munich.
This retired lunch lady is ready to enjoy life.