Barbara Bumgardner started her career in education driving a school bus. Her first career advancement was to be named a substitute dishwasher in the school cafeteria.
More than 30 years later, she is responsible for providing breakfast, lunch and snacks to all the kids and teachers in the Middleton School District, serving as their food service director.
“Being a lunch lady for this long was never in my plans,” Bumgardner said. “I found my niche in life.”
Bumgardner took over the kitchen staff 19 years ago, a route she didn’t expect but one she’s embraced. At the age of 50, she returned to college to complete a bachelor’s degree in business management in an effort to learn more about running her kitchens and healthy eating habits. School food service has changed drastically during Bumgardner’s career. No longer are pizza, chicken nuggets and nachos a staple. Instead, districts like Middleton offer salad bars and high-nutrient entries.
“Barbara runs the program so smoothly and all the food that is offered is good for you,” said Chris Baskette, a special education teacher at Middleton High School, who also commented on the transformation of school lunches over the past 20 years ago.
Bumgardner starts her day at 5:30 a.m. She answers phone calls from parents and staff, writes grants for the department, places bids on food items and isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty when her staff of 33 needs help.
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“When I’m needed in the kitchen I frequently do the dishes,” Bumgardner said. “There is no average day and it’s always challenging.”
The food service staff serves more than 33,000 lunches and 28,000 breakfasts in one month. Dixie Cox-McCoy has been serving food in Middleton’s cafeterias for nearly 22 years and she worked with Bumgardner when both were dishwashers.
“Barb is organized and stubborn — she sticks with her guns,” Cox-McCoy said. “Work is fun because Barb is always trying new things.”
Bumgardner said one of the more challenging parts of her job is following state and federal nutritional regulations, such as offering fruit or vegetables at every meal. She’s counts on the Idaho State Department of Education to keep her informed.
While Bumgardner enjoys the people she works with, the best part of her day is seeing the kids.
“It’s at the point now were I might recognize students and those students are grandkids of students who rode on my school bus,” Bumgardner said.