Decades of devotion: Mrs. Betty cheers generations in Vina school cafeteria

FRANKLIN LIVING MARCH-APRIL 2023—

For Betty Mahan, the reason behind her six-plus decades in the Vina school cafeteria is simple: “I enjoy working,” Mahan explained, while sitting at a cafeteria table surrounded by fellow lunchroom workers. 

Now 94, Mahan, or “Mrs. Betty,” as she is affectionately known, still enjoys going to the cafeteria each day to perform the work she has so lovingly done for what will be 63 years this May. 

BEGINNINGS

At $2 a day and 31 years old when she started working in the Vina school cafeteria, Mahan has happily served and cheered generations of children, staff and faculty.

“I grew up in Vina,” Mahan explained. “I was born right down yonder,” she added, indicating an area not far from the school. “This is my life. I love these kids.”

Richard Townsend, retired Vina school guidance counselor, started first grade at Vina the same year Mahan began working in the lunchroom. 

“I guess you could say we started school together,” he said with a laugh. “I retired in 2014, and she’s still working. She’s one strong and dedicated lady – always greeting the kids and teachers with a warm smile and asking how their day is going.”

Savannah Smith shares similar first memories of “Mrs. Betty.” “She was here when I was little, and I was attending the Head Start program,” Smith recalled. Smith, now a Pre-K teacher at the school, said Mahan was “always happy to see us,” adding she doesn’t think she’s ever seen Mahan not happy.

Smith said Mahan would stand at the end of the line, hand them their condiments and other things, smile and say, “Hello, children.” 

Townsend said nobody will ever come close to having Mahan’s work ethic; he’s never seen anyone work as hard as she does. “You hear people say you need to retire and enjoy life. I believe she’s enjoying life now – she loves what she’s doing.” 

THROUGH THE GENERATIONS

“She’s always the first one the children see,” said kindergarten teacher Deborah Townsend. She said “Mrs. Betty” hands them their food, bag or treat and always has a “sweet comment or compliment and a nice smile, just something to make their day.” 

“She loves Vina school, and we all love her,” she added.

Through nine principals, four directors of child nutrition and five superintendents, Mahan’s presence remains a beloved constant in the Franklin County Schools system. 

“Mrs. Betty is a real treasure,” said Vina Principal Brent Gillespie. “This is my fifth year here, and I have really enjoyed getting to know her.”

Gillespie said Mahan tells him stories almost every morning of years gone by when he goes in to check on the lunchroom. “She is a busy, hard-working lady, and I have a ton of respect for her,” he added.  

James Pharr, former Vina principal, also described her as “a very dedicated and hard-working lady” and said he was “blessed to work with her for 15 years.”

“I love Mrs. Betty,” agreed FCS Superintendent Greg Hamilton. Before being elected superintendent, he taught history, coached baseball and served as assistant principal at Vina school. “I had the pleasure of working with her for 20 years. I will never forget the stories she shared with me throughout the years. She’s a truly remarkable lady – a lady of moxie.”

Current Child Nutrition Program director Robynn Bragwell has known Mahan for about six years, and she said she loves getting to enjoy Mahan’s “quick wit.” 

“She’s always telling a funny story or saying something funny. Mrs. Betty is just very quick-witted,” said Bragwell. “She’s very popular with the students, and we all love her. She’s an icon for child nutrition in Franklin County.”

FRANKLIN FAMILY

Mrs. Betty married Monroe Mahan in Mississippi July 1, 1952. They had one child, Mary Jane, who passed away Jan. 13, 1987. She was also married to Randall Armstrong, and they had no children.

Mahan also, however, has her Vina family. “We take care of each other just like a family,” explained long-time Vina school cafeteria manager Kathy Smith. “The students love her.”

Fellow lunchroom worker Debra Winsted said if the students don’t see her, they ask about her. 

“We have so many good memories together,” added Smith. “Every day here is a blessing.”

OFFICIAL RECOGNITION

Mahan’s history of service has not gone unnoticed. 

May 8, 2015, the Vina school cafeteria was dedicated in her honor. A photo display memorializes the dedication, a framed sign noting her “many years of hard work and dedication to Vina School.”

In 2020 she went to Montgomery to be honored by the State Child Nutrition Association for her many years of dedicated service. 

Amy McCollum was the CNP director at the time, and she said she recalls Maham fondly. “Mrs. Betty is a wonderful person, and she cares about everyone,” McCollum said. “She’s got a work ethic that a lot of young people nowadays don’t have.”

WORK HARD, PLAY HARD

When not at the school, Mahan said she enjoys tending to her chickens, mowing, burning and otherwise cleaning up outside. She also keeps up several rental properties. She and fellow lunchroom worker Lucinda Barnes, her “football buddy,” share a love for Auburn football. She is a member of Vina First Baptist Church.

“I enjoy getting up every morning and coming to work,” said Mahan. “We have a good team. We work hard, but we have a good time in here.”

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