‘Nourish the Soul’: Holmen High School ‘lunch lady’ wins national honor

Stephanie Sheley carries a passion for nutrition and a positive attitude, wins National Employee of the Year

HOLMEN, Wis. (WKBT) — A healthy meal helps students learn. Holmen High School cook Stephanie Sheley adds her own personality into the mix, and her positive attitude has earned her national recognition.

Work done behind the scenes does not mean its role takes a seat at the back of the classroom.

“We always have a good, fun time,” Sheley said. “No, we are not always seen, but we are always heard.”

Sheley stays busy prepping for the afternoon lunch rush.

“It is fast-paced, busy, hard work, and I didn’t expect that — being a lunch lady and all,” Sheley said. “It makes me get up and go.”

Someone who started as a substitute teacher and found a love for nutrition in more ways than a healthy meal.

“If I can make a kid — one kid a day — smile, then my job is complete,” Sheley said.

“Her ability to relate with kids is really off the charts,” said Mike Gasper, nutrition services director for the Holmen School District.

Sheley is always moving, and always smiling for the students she serves.

“They kinda keep you young, too,” Sheley said.

Her efforts have flown far from under the radar.

“It does feel good to be recognized and appreciated,” Sheley said.

Sheley is the first in Wisconsin to be named the School Nutrition Association’s National Employee of the Year, Gasper said.

“It’s quite an accomplishment,” he said.

“I didn’t even know there was such an award for lunch lady of the year,” Sheley said.

Sheley’s humble nature won’t allow her to believe she’s worthy of the honor, but her students disagree.

“She deserves it,” said student Gunnar Hillstead.

Nutrition leader Sarah Mumm echoes that statement.

“I can’t think of a person more deserving of this than Steph,” Mumm said.

Sheley’s colleagues celebrated this moment. Someone even brought their dog by to say congratulations on Tuesday.

This is about more than her work in the kitchen. She adds an extra ingredient.

“Every day comin’ in — smile on her face,” said student Carter Paulson. “Making everyone happy.”

Holmen’s enrollment is around 1,200 students, and Sheley knows most of their names.

“Golly, I gotta say she’s one of the coolest ladies there is here,” Hillstead said.

Her personality fills everyone she meets.

“You gotta stay positive,” Hillstead said. “You gotta surround yourself with amazing people who are gonna lift you up.”

Passion and joy are written on Steley’s face.

“Be kind to everybody,” she said. “Everybody has a story to tell and everybody’s going through tough difficulties — so, just be kind to everybody.”

These are the moments when a life in education is defined.

One of those people your children remember years after they’ve graduated.

“We don’t just feed the body,” Gasper said. “We also have to nourish the soul.”

A balanced meal prepared with a little extra love that is perhaps the most important part of this Holmen Viking recipe.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Steley said.

Sheley will receive an all-expense paid trip to be recognized in July at the SNA’s National Conference in Orlando.

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