The end of the (lunch) line

It takes a special kind of person to be a middle school lunch lady. 

Lynn Lobdell would know. For more than 20 years, she was the steadying presence in the McClure Middle School cafeteria, also known as “Café McClure.” 

Last month, she hung up her apron for the final time. 

“It’s just time,” she said, “and I think you know when it’s time to go.”

Lobdell started working for Seattle Public Schools when her children were in middle school. Before that, she was a stay-at-home mom, and a chaperone on every field trip. 

“Everybody wanted to be with me, because we were the most fun,” she said. “We broke all the rules we could. Weren’t supposed to have gum? I’d provide the gum. Weren’t supposed to have candy? I’d provide the candy.”

By working for the district, she said, she could still have the same breaks and summers off as her kids. 

“I could still be a stay-at-home mom, basically, and still be there,” she said. 

Before coming to McClure, she spent time at three local elementary schools: Whittier, Gatewood, and Highland Park. 

Then came the chance to work in a middle school cafeteria. 

“When this opened up I thought, ‘Ooh, I don’t know. Am I going to like those kids?’” she said. 

It didn’t take long for her mettle to be tested. On her first day, she was confronted by one student, who called her a phrase not fit for print. 

Her response?

“I said, ‘You know what? Until you apologize, those doors are closed and nobody’s having lunch.’”

So, she shut the doors to the cafeteria. A few minutes later, he apologized, and for the rest of his time at McClure, that kid, “had her back,” she said. 

The way she connected with the students she served wasn’t lost on her co-workers. Debra Small worked alongside Lobdell for nearly 20 years.

“The kids have always loved Lynn,” Small said. “She’s been more like a mom and grandma to them, than just a bossy kitchen lady.”

Each day, she would arrive at the school around 6 a.m., and start preparing breakfast, served about two hours later. Then, it was on to lunch, which is divided into three separate periods at the school for the approximately 550 students. 

While it’s been hard work, and it “kills your body,” she said, she called it a fabulous job.

Lobdell said there’s a lot of drama that comes with the day-to-day dealings of middle schoolers.

“You have to let so much of it roll off your shoulder,” she said. “But I love them, I love them, I love them, I do.”

On her final day, a steady stream of students approached her for one last hug, or to wish her well as she moved on.  

Lobdell, who recently turned 65, decided the time was right to end her tenure. She’s not entirely sure of what the future holds, but with her home currently being remodeled, she could see a sale in her future, to buy a little lake house to fish with her husband 

“It was a big decision to make, and especially to do it in the middle of the year like this,” she said.

But, she hoped she made lunchtime fun for everyone who walked through the cafeteria doors. 

“Every single day that I’m here, it should have been a fun time,” she said. “It was for me.”

To comment on this story, write to