Leading Ladies - from The Messenger
Almost every student who has passed through the lunch line at Butler Elementary School for the past three decades has a cherished memory from an encounter with a pair of longtime food service staff members.
Juanita Rydberg and Linda Redman have been serving students at Butler for more than 30 years. Together, they are two of the longest-serving food service staff members in the Fort Dodge Community School District.
“We’re the last of the originals (staff members) from the old building,” Rydberg said, referring to the old Butler school that was demolished in 2002.
Rydberg and Redman did not know each other when they first came to the Butler kitchens all those years ago, but today, they’re best friends.
“She’s been there for me for so much,” Rydberg said of Redman. “She’s been there my whole life.”
In fact, just two years ago, Rydberg asked Redman to come with her to pick up a marriage license from the courthouse when Rydberg married her husband in 2019.
“We’ve been through a lot together,” Rydberg said. “We don’t always agree, but we’ll always be friends.”
It’s not just Redman and Rydberg who are close in the Butler kitchen. There’s also Linda Baker and Jodi Chada.
“This is my work family right here,” Rydberg said. “These girls are my family.”
It takes a team effort to keep the lunch line running smoothly every day.
“We do everything for the benefit of those children,” Rydberg said. “We want to make sure that they have a good dining experience and that they know they’re loved and respected.”
Redman said she enjoys running into students while out around town like at the grocery store because they’ll get excited and greet her.
“It’s so rewarding to just know that you made a difference,” she said. “They’ll say, ‘Hey Mom, I know her.'”
Making a connection with the students as they pass through the lunch line is important to Rydberg.
“Every day, if you just make a difference in one child’s life — or a staff member — you can make that child feel special and show them that they’re loved,” she said.
Throughout their many years of service at Butler, Redman and Rydberg have seen thousands of students and served more than a million meals. Many of their students today are the children of students they served decades ago.
“Linda and I, we reminisce about so many families because we now have their kids,” Rydberg said. “That is the greatest reward, I think — we just love it when we realize it.”
“There’s some that look just like their parents,” Redman added.
Even after 30 years at Butler, Rydberg and Redman have no plans on retiring any time soon.
“Linda and I used to say we got paid to come to work just to have fun,” Rydberg said.
“It’s the best job in the world,” Redman said. “What more could you want? No nights, no holidays, Christmas break, we get the summer off.”
At the end of the day, it’s the students that keep Redman and Rydberg coming back year after year.
“Every child that has ever went through this system is embedded in my heart,” Rydberg said. “They are my world.”