"Ohhhh, hi there. How are you? Come over to have breakfast with us?"
"No, no—just passing through."
"Have you had breakfast yet?"
"Well, n-n-n-no, not exactly. —But I got some work to do, kind of in a rush."
"Well, take a carmel roll at least. Here—I'll put it on a napkin for you and you can just take it with you when you leave. How's that?"
"I can't say no to you, Sue."
It's doubtful that anyone's escaped Sue Toft's orbit hungry. For 33 years she's cooked for the children of Clarkfield, then Yellow Medicine East and finally Clarkfield Area Charter School. Friday Nov. 30 was her last official day as cook at CACS.
During the lunch rush on Friday, Sue walked down the one main artery of the CACS school building and into the gymnasium where she’s served breakfast and lunch to CACS students since 2007.
Instantly, students get up from their lunches to swarm Sue in a maelstrom of hugs, wishes and exaggerated pleas.
“Sue! Sue! Sue! Sue! Why do you have to leave Sue? We’ll miss you!”
They’ve been preparing for this day for weeks: Sue’s big going-away “surprise”. Which, in reality, was no surprise at all because apparently exciteable grade-school children are awful at keeping secrets.
“They’ve been telling me about their “surprise” for weeks,” says Sue with a chuckle and wave of her hand.
But, excitement is understandable when preparing to thank THE BEST SCHOOL COOK EVER!!!
There are few things the Clarkfield community is more proud of than their school’s reputation for possibly serving (again in grade-school speak) THE BEST SCHOOL FOOD EVER!!!
If you haven’t had the pleasure of grabbing a plastic tray and shuffling your way through Sue’s lunch line—you are pitied. It’s legendary.
When YME ran a middle school at H.A. Hagg, the kids from Granite would hear rumors of Sue’s lunches (it was whispered that in Clarkfield “seconds” were even encouraged and the milk came from an old cow named Bessie that grazed on Hauge Field). It all turned out to be true (except for the cow) and for many became a welcome concession: “Well, you got to go to Jr. High. That sucks. But hey, look on the bright side, at least breakfast and lunch are awesome.”
The Clarkfield kids though, they were spoiled, they really didn’t know what they had until it was gone. Once that day came, however—and it always came, they pined for Sue’s pizza hot dish like old men pine for lost love.
Page 2 of 2 - Sue spent 28 years serving about 200-400 meals a day at H.A. Hagg. Since starting at CACS she serves around 70 kids, who she calls her clients and who she’s always trying desperately to please.
She would be up everyday by 4:00 a.m. She’d get to her kitchen by 5:30 a.m. She’d prep for breakfast and start lunch. She’d serve breakfast at 7:30 a.m. then clean-up, load up and unload it again. She’d then finish making lunch, prep the salads and vegetables, serve lunch till 12:30 p.m. Then clean-up, mop, take care of paperwork, do the ordering and get ready to do it again—for 33 years.
“Food has been a passion all my life,” says Sue who talks about all the local fruits, vegetables, honey and anything else that people bring to her that she’s tried to use over the years (Sue was farm-to-school and “organic” way before it was hip). “I enjoy the creativity of trying new things,” she says. “And the smiles on the student’s and the staff’s faces are my payback.”
At this point, she’s begun to feed the grandchildren of some of the students she’s had over the years. And she’s also been able, these last couple of years, to feed her own grandchildren—Jadyn and Kiara—who attend CACS.
“The best part of my day has always been those students looking to see what we’re having. Mmmm, they’d say—sometimes,” says Sue.
As for retirement, Sue says her first goal is to sleep till 7:00 a.m. After that it’s going to be volunteer work and “whatever comes along”. She’s confident in her replacement Cathy Nemitz, and from what everyone says the two are cut from the same cloth: foodies, who love kids and have a good sense of humor.
Good hearted women that never let anyone escape hungry.