Dolly Long, the food service manager at Farwell Elementary School in Lewiston, serves lunch Thursday to the final students of her long career. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

LEWISTON — Dolly Long has been in Lewiston school kitchens for more than 40 years.

She tears up a little thinking she only has a month left.

“I’ve just loved the whole time,” said Long, 69. “I don’t think there’s a day that I ever said, ‘I don’t want to go to work.’ I’m going to miss my whole school. I’m going to miss my staff. I’m going to miss it all, but it’s time.”

Long started as a substitute in the Lewiston High School kitchen when her daughter was approaching kindergarten age. It was a great job for a working mom, with hours that lined up with school and summers off.

About 18 months later, in 1980, she was hired as a full-time cook at Pettingill Elementary School. A year after that, Farwell Elementary School had an opening for a kitchen manager. Long has been there ever since.

“I’ve always loved kids, and that’s a big pull in this place — children are our business,” Long said. “No kids, no business.”

She orders food, keeps kitchen shelves and coolers tightly organized, helps kitchen staff when they need a hand and sits at the register to check kids out during meals.

She has learned thousands of names over the years.

“If I go grocery shopping, or (I’m) out and about, it really makes me happy when they recognize me, I recognize them and then we have a conversation,” Long said.

“I’ve got a substitute coming in next week and she used to come here. She says, ‘You were my lunch lady.’ I said, ‘Did you have dirty blond hair?’ She says, ‘Yes, I did.'”

She remembered the woman as a little girl.

These days, Long and her staff feed about 240 students for breakfast and about 360 for lunch. Kids call her “Miss Dolly.”

Over Long’s career, students have always loved tater tots, smiley face fries, chicken nuggets and pizza, though how some of those things are made has changed.

Popcorn chicken served Thursday had whole-grain breading. Pizza used to start with dough they rolled out by hand, but that was hard on the shoulders. Now, it is frozen, right-size shells.

“We’ve definitely gone healthier,” Long said. “More fruits and vegetables.”

Long is happy more programs now offer students access to free breakfast and lunch, as well as fruits and vegetables.

“Many children would probably go hungry instead,” she said. “I’ve seen that and tried to help out wherever needed. It’s been very (emotional) when you see kids and you know there’s nothing there (at home). It’s very sad.”

She used to sit on the board for the Maine School Food Service Association, which opened the door for traveling and finding new cooking ideas and recipes.

Long said Jeanne Hood, the now-retired school nutrition director, was her career mentor.

“She was a very big encouragement for all my days,” Long said.

When she told Hood she will be retiring, Hood applauded the news — Long would now have more time to come out for lunch.

Long said she will miss school events, such as the annual Pumpkin Festival, and being part of the school community.

Long said she does not have specific plans for her retirement. She will probably keep getting up at 3 a.m., but says she will have more time for reading, taking walks, doing fun things with her husband of 52 years, Norm, and spending time with her 19-month-old great-grandson, Brady.

People You Know is a regular feature on faces in the community. Know someone we ought to feature? Contact staff writer Kathryn Skelton at 689-2844 or [email protected]

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