July 23, 2009
Janie Meneely fills not only stomachs, but also hearts.
By spending more than 30 years working in Indiana State University's Lincoln Quad dining hall and in her current position overseeing breakfast and lunch carry out, she has taken one lesson to heart.
"You learn these kids are away from home," she said. "A lot of them feel like they don't fit in. I try to talk to them. I want them to fit."
She asks how they are doing and listens to what they say in return. She trades makeup tips with the girls.
"I say any old barn looks good with a little paint on it," she said with a laugh.
It's part of Meneely's effort to make students feel welcome at Indiana State, and it works.
"When I think of Quad dining, I think of Janie," said Peter O'Keefe, a senior theater major from Rockville. "A day without her is just a weird day."
O'Keefe first met Meneely during his freshman year. Even though he didn't live in Lincoln Quad, he would often join his friends for meals there and those friends insisted he meet her. He still returns to the dining hall to see her.
"She's always brought a smile to my face," he said. "She makes you feel really welcome. She's just a real fun person."
Ray Veit, director of residential dining, agrees that Meneely brings smiles to students' faces.
"She never fails to brighten their day and they always look forward to it," he said. "She's as fun with the employees as she is with the students."
Throughout out the year, Meneely provides not only service with a smile, she also has brought homemade chocolate-covered Townhouse or haystack cookies or bought cakes for students on their birthdays - if she knows about them before the day - or candy for holidays.
"It's just something I like to do," she said.
If students have a special dining hall request such as for pumpkin muffins, she tries to make it happen.
"They'll say it's just like my mom makes," she said.
Yet, she is quick to point out she isn't the only one who works to make the students feel at home on campus.
"It's not just me who puts out a special effort," Meneely said. "All of my co-workers are great; they go that extra step to help people."
"Any little thing we can do to show we care has a lasting impact," he said. "No matter how independent or mature you are you yearn for things that give you comfort. It's more than customer service. It's welcoming."
For all the muffins, cookies, cakes, candy and advice that Meneely hands out with plates of food, she just wants the students to feel at home.
"Since I don't have any children of my own, I can enjoy them and send them home," she said laughingly before adding another thought with a bit of wonder in her voice, "Their parents have come and said thank you for taking such good care of my kids. That was sweet of them."
At her Terre Haute home, she has a 4-year-old Yorkshire terrier named Lucy. She keeps a picture close to her at all times so she call pull it out to show the students, or anyone else.
"I tease the kids and say, ‘Don't we look alike?'" she said holding the photo next to her face.
When not working at Indiana State, Meneely enjoys spending time with her mother, who worked at ISU for 16 years in the Lincoln dining hall before a stroke forced her to retire. Though a severe eye infection in 2006 caused Meneely to undergo a cornea transplant in her right eye, she has no plans to retire anytime soon.
"I love them," she said of the students. "I like them to feel at home while they're away from home."
Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, assistant director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Cutline: Janie Meneely serves students in the Lincoln Quad dining hall. ISU photo/Tony Campbell
Cutline: Janie Meneely poses with her 4-year-old Yorkshire terrier, Lucy. ISU photo/Tony Campbell
Janie Meneely has spent more than 30 years working in Indiana State University's Lincoln Quad dining hall.