Helen Haass doesn’t remember the woman’s name, but she certainly is thankful for her suggestion.
With her two children in elementary school, Haass was searching for a part-time job that allowed her to fill her empty mornings and afternoons and be home with her kids after school.
The woman recommended working in the Middletown City School District cafeteria. That sounded interesting, Haass thought. So she applied and received a job at Springhill Elementary School that has since closed.
That was 50 years ago.
Haass has worked in several Middletown schools and ,has found a home at Middletown High School where five days a week, she stands behind the cafeteria cash register, always with a smile and a few words of encouragement for the students.
Did I forget to mention she’s less than one week from her 87th birthday?
Her boss, Cindy DeZarn, general manager of the district’s food service, is amazed by Haass’ beauty, inside and out.
“I used to dread getting old until I met Helen,” DeZarn said. “She is such a joy. Everyone loves her. When she misses work, and that isn’t often, the students ask, ‘Where is she? Is she OK?’”
Those students probably have repeatedly asked about Haass, or as they affectionally call her, “Miss Helen,” lately. Haass fell one night in her Middletown home and she’s recuperating from muscle weakness at Otterbein SeniorLife behind Atrium Medical Center.
The plan, she said, once she regains her strength to return to her job. She can’t see living one winter in Ohio with no place to go. She can only work on so many crossword puzzles in the newspaper.
“I don’t want to stay home,” she said. “That isn’t me.”
She also volunteers one afternoon a week at Atrium Medical Center.
Jennifer Weaver said her mother “loves being a part of the community and those kids. You don’t want to keep her down.”
Haass has witnessed plenty of changes from behind the cash register. From a time when students paid for their meals until now, when breakfasts and lunches are free because they attend a low-income district.
When asked if students have changed the last 50 years, Haass, sitting in a chair in her room, smiled and said: “Are you kidding me? You already know that.”
A native of Cincinnati, she was married to Jerome Haass for 46 years until his death in 2005. He worked in Armco’s general offices, and after being laid off, worked in the Middletown Post Office. They have two children, Craig Haass, 60, and Weaver, 61.
Weaver called her mother “my best friend” and someone she always goes to for advice. You’re never too old to ask your parents for words of wisdom.
“Moms are there to right the ship,” Weaver said. “My mom is the center of our family. She always helps me when I have a question.”
Haass could say the same about that woman from 50 years ago.