Kathy McGruder, affectionately called “Ms. Kathy,” is known for her warm hugs and greetings as students enter the Fresh Food Company in Newcomb Hall. McGruder is often lauded by the University community for her kindness and energy, and others have recently taken notice too — specifically, Aramark’s Ring of Stars program. Aramark, which provides dining services to the University, recognizes 200 of its best employees from around the nation in its annual Ring of Stars program.
Started in 2015, the Ring of Stars honors those who deliver outstanding service to Aramark’s clients and guests. Out of over 270,000 employees, this ceremony recognizes 200 of its best workers from around the world. This year’s winners will join Aramark’s senior leadership team for a complimentary three day celebration at JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort and Spa in Phoenix, Ariz., Oct. 2 to 5.
Aramark marketing manager Scott Aebersold explained the Ring of Stars winners are chosen carefully, and it is a true honor to achieve this award.
“Award recipients need to demonstrate excellence in living Aramark's core values, delivering greatness at the moment of truth, innovating the everyday and demonstrating a high degree of involvement in the communities they serve,” Aebersold said in an email to The Cavalier Daily.
McGruder first heard of the news from her manager, Heather Paulson, who recommended she receive the award.
“I still can’t believe it,” McGruder said. “I cried. And I was like, ‘Thank you so much, thank you.’ I still can’t believe it, and I won’t believe it ‘til I get to Arizona.”
McGruder has a unique talent of making anyone who walks into the dining hall in feel valued. Second-year Engineering student Termeh Ahi fondly recalls her interactions with McGruder.
“Whenever I used to go [to Newcomb] my first year, it would always brighten up my day,” Ahi said. “It’s really easy to go through this school and not have an adult figure who truly cares about you. But when you enter that dining hall, it’s like a warm ray of sunshine that hugs you and tells you that you are valuable, and it takes a lot of stress away.”
McGruder credits her parents for learning to embrace everyone, no matter who they are or what they look like.
“They never told us to hate anyone because ethnicity or anything like that,” McGruder said. “They would say there’s some buttholes out there, and there’s some good people out there … We look at people.”
McGruder’s parents divorced when she was young. She lived in Jackson, Miss. and said she and her siblings were ostracized for being “that divorced lady’s children.” She tries to ensure no one feels like she did then.
“I refuse to let anybody feel as if they don’t belong or they don’t have anyone,” McGruder said. “I don’t want them to feel as if they’re not welcome. I’ve been there, and I don’t want anybody else to feel that way, so shoo!”
Third-year College student Angel Lam said McGruder radiates positive energy.
“The really great thing about McGruder is that every time I go to the dining hall, she’s always smiling and that always puts a smile on my face,” Lam said. “She’ll give you a hug no matter who you are, so if you’re having a really bad day, just seeing her really uplifts your spirit.”
A mother herself, McGruder said she feels a sort of responsibility for students.
“I just really love people,” McGruder said. “You’re somebody else’s children, away from home, and I know how I would want my children treated.”
“You guys are absolutely awesome,” McGruder added. “I’ve never worked at any other school, and after working here, I’ve never cared to work at any other school. If you all could see what I see coming in that door, you guys are going to blow all of this stuff out of the water … You are the ‘U’ in U.Va. Without you, it’s just ‘V-A.’”