More than a Northlake lunch supervisor — Dorothy Reaber is ‘grandma’
"I love my kids. There's nothing I won't do for them," said Dorothy "Grandma" Reaber in the lunchroom of Northlake Middle School on Jan. 15. Reaber has worked as a lunchroom supervisor for 27 years. | Rob Hart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 25, 2013 6:17AM
NORTHLAKE — Dorothy Reaber has worked as a lunchroom supervisor at Northlake Middle School for a total of 33 years. The students (and teachers) all call her “grandma,” while she calls them all the students “babe” or “honey.” From 10:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. on school days she supervises six tables of students, a third of the lunchroom.
Q: Everyone calls you “grandma?”
A: Everyone. Don’t feel funny about it.
Q: Are you from this area?
A: I grew up in Hyde Park and went to St. Ambrose Elementary on 47th street and St. Thomas the Apostle High School.
Q: Was there a lunchroom supervisor there?
A: No, I don’t remember that. We had nuns there, real nuns.
Q: What did your parents do?
A: My mother came from Ireland. She worked for Jewish people in Hyde Park. I remember going there all the time with her when I was a kid.
Q: What did you do after high school?
A: Got married. They did that back then.
Q: Did you work elsewhere?
A: This is the only job I’ve ever had. I started at Sunnyside Elementary in 1975 (District 87 in Berkeley). I came here (Northlake Middle School) in 1977 or 1978. After four or five years the principal decided he was going to have the teachers take care of children during lunch and let us go.
Q: What did you do next?
A: I was gone for three or four years. I was bored at home and went to Whittier Elementary on the other side of Northlake. I was only there a couple weeks when I met the principal that had let me go and he said come back to the middle school.
Q: You work two-and-a-half hours per day. Did you ever consider full-time work?
A: My husband never wanted me to work (laughs). And my kids were young. When school was out, I was off with them.
Q: How many lunchroom supervisors are there?
A: Two others. I’ve been trying to teach them what I’ve learned.
Q: Such as?
A: If there are two kids arguing, you never believe one over the other. If you didn’t hear it, you don’t know the truth. If they’re bickering or not getting along, sometimes they just need to be separated. You can’t get too deep into their stuff. Anything about their family. If you hear something, (you don’t) repeat it to anybody else.
Q: What does a lunchroom supervisor do?
A: Walk around and supervise the kids. If there’s a problem you try to fix it. If you can’t, you go to the office. If someone’s crying and upset, I usually try to take him or her out of the lunchroom. That’s embarrassing to them.
Q: Anything else?
A: We also wipe tables between each lunch. If it’s nice out, we can take them out to play. If they don’t have 40 cents for lunch, see Grandma.
Q: How have things changed over the years?
A: Just new faces. New lunch ladies come in. It’s hard sometimes. You have to teach them what has to be done.
Q: When you started being a lunchroom supervisor in the 1970s, were you thinking of this as a 33-year position?
A: (Shakes her head no). Maybe if I hadn’t married, I would have done something with children.