Every University student’s experience is inextricably linked to the faculty and staff that make it possible. Bus drivers, maintenance workers, dining staff and so many other workers contribute to helping the University run every single day. One notable staff member in particular has left a lasting impression and enhanced the lives of students on a daily basis.
In her almost 22-year tenure working at Newcomb Dining Hall, University employee Kathy McGruder has never failed to make a student smile with her contagious laugh and her exceptionally witty remarks. Every single day, rain or shine, Ms. Kathy — as she’s affectionately called — provides a warm and welcoming presence at the entrance of the dining hall.
Ms. Kathy always strives to enhance the lives of those around her, no matter where they come from or how they’re feeling. It can be difficult for some students to get through their days when things look tough, but filing into Newcomb Hall and being greeted by Ms. Kathy’s customary “Hi beautiful, kick some butt today,” often leaves students walking into the dining hall with a smile on their face after a simple 10-second encounter with the remarkably charismatic Newcomb employee.
Ms. Kathy’s bubbly demeanor and endearing storytelling captivates those who have crossed her path. As she spoke about her journey from her home in New Mexico to working at Newcomb for the last 22 years, her amusing anecdotes and infectious laugh brought her narrative to life.
“I used to be a cardiology tech back home,” Ms. Kathy said. “And the opportunity came to put in the application here. I did… and I think I’m exactly where God wants me to be.”
Her affectionate pride for her “babies,” as she calls University students, is evident in the way she takes the time to learn the names and recognize the faces of those who frequent the Newcomb dining hall. Although she does love the pasta station, her favorite part about working at Newcomb Hall is seeing University students almost every day.
“[My favorite part] is the student body, period,” Ms. Kathy said. “I reflect what you guys direct. So, whatever you see from me, you’ve already brought that in, and I’m just giving it back to you. And I’m just very thankful that that’s love and not cow manure.”
Her positive interactions with the students has given her the motivation to go to work for the past 22 years. Although she starts her day early, she never fails to bring positive energy to the dining hall and, occasionally, to cranky students.
“If somebody's aggressive or grouchy, my mind is like, ‘Oh, you,’” Ms. Kathy said. “I have to remember what this walk is about. And sometimes you have to think about where someone just came from before they got here. They might have other things on their mind. Who knows? We're not all perfect.”
Ms. Kathy explained what she loves most about the University community is how everyone looks after each other and is always willing to lend a helping hand, whether it is giving someone directions or giving them a voucher for a guest meal.
“You guys rock, sweetie, you have a lot of love,” Ms. Kathy said. “Someone in line is like, ‘I'll give you a guest meal’ or someone that’s like ‘I’m out of vouchers’ [and someone is] like ‘I got you.’”
Beloved by students, faculty and staff alike, Ms. Kathy’s impact on Grounds was honored by the University with a portrait of her on the third floor of Newcomb Hall last year.
“I'm thankful for it,” Ms. Kathy said, misty-eyed. “I appreciate it, I'm honored. I just do not feel that I should be looked at like that because I’m no greater than anybody else on this earth.”
Ms. Kathy acknowledged that she is thankful for how her representation at University has honored her and her family, but reiterated that she feels no more deserving than anyone else. Her faith and humility are just two of her defining qualities.
“Well, I’m thankful for it because in my family, it’s like Black history,” Ms. Kathy said. “But then again, I feel bad. I’m no more deserving than anybody else. And if anything, it should be God's picture up there… it is not just about me.”
Ms. Kathy is so notable that fourth-year students have had the option to fondly mark the end of their time at the University by visiting her at 1515 on the morning of Final Exercises for a hug and final send-off. This is just as memorable for the graduates as it is for Ms. Kathy.
“I’m good baby…I don’t cry till May,” Ms. Kathy said.
A mentor, guardian and friend, Ms. Kathy has had a widespread impact on students at University because of the unique effort she takes to make each individual feel special and loved as soon as they spot her in the entrance of Newcomb Hall, reminding them to stay strong amongst anything that comes their way.
“Keep your head high, keep your steel toed boots on and keep kicking any institution or anything you face in the middle of its keister,” Ms. Kathy said. “Real hard.”