Ever wondered what a day in the life of a staff member at the College is like? The hundreds of different people who work at the College are amazing, hardworking members of the community, so we decided to introduce the “Behind the Uniform” column to get to know some of them a little bit better.
Lisa Armstrong has worked in Dining Services at the College for 20 years and has plenty of stories to share about her time here. “When I started working here,” she said, “Paresky didn’t exist; that was Baxter Hall. I began as a dish room worker in Mission Hall.” After working at Mission, she moved to Greylock Dining Hall and then to Driscoll, where she has been ever since. During the summers, Armstrong works in the Faculty House Dining Hall. She feels that every dining hall has its own unique personality and likes Driscoll for its “supportive and friendly atmosphere. There is always someone willing to cover your shift for you if you can’t,” she explained. Armstrong herself is one of these helpful people and sometime works at the Eco Café when someone cannot make their shift there. She also considers herself to be a “jack of all trades”; she has made an effort to work in different departments over the years, and she knows just about everything that gets done in a dining hall.
A typical morning starts at 6:30 a.m., when Armstrong fills the cereal, sets up the salad bar and makes sure everything is in stock. As a salad bar preparer, Armstrong makes a point to ask students (vegetarians in particular) how they would improve the salad bar. In her spare time, she says she goes “to spinning classes in Lasell Gym and to boot camp at Greylock Hall to keep fit.”
Lisa has lived in North Adams for most of her life. She grew up in North Adams, moved to Bennington, Vt., after high school, and then to Hoosick Falls, N.Y., after that. She returned to North Adams from Hoosick Falls to be with her parents. Armstrong is the oldest of six kids, with eight nieces and nephews and has a 22-year-old daughter and a dog.
When asked what her favorite thing about the College is, Armstrong replied: “The students. They’re just great. It’s the best thing when a kid will come behind the counter to hug you and wish you a happy New Year.” And the students love Armstrong, too. Last fall, she was invited to speak at Storytime. “I went with my daughter,” she said. “It was wonderful. They made my favorite cookies – peanut butter – and asked me questions about my life and asked my daughter what it was like living with me.” Students also often stay in contact with her after they graduate, and send her letters and photos from their new lives. Her daughter, too, seems to be enjoying the role the College has in their lives: She is still in contact with her “big sister” from the College. “She’s almost like a daughter to me!” Armstrong said of this particular student.
Armstrong has collected quite a few wild stories from her time at the College. A few years ago, the women’s rugby team was trying to break the world record for the longest rugby game ever played. At one point, however, the game’s official timer ran out of battery and died. Only Armstrong and her friend had their watches, so the pressure was placed on them to keep time for the rest of the game. The game lasted 24 hours and managed to break the existing record.
Armstrong also had many tales to share when asked for interesting stories about dining hall mishaps. One day, Armstrong accidently spilled salad dressing all over a table and the Greylock Hall floor at right before they opened for Christmas dinner. It was all hands on deck as everyone rushed to clean up the mess and to put a new cloth on the table. Thankfully, they managed to get the spill cleaned before everyone came in for dinner. When the manager came in shortly after and asked why all the dining staff members were laughing, all they could muster was a quick, “We’ll tell you after dinner.”
Much has changed in Armstrong’s 20 years at the College. “We used to have to serve students portioned amounts of food,” she said, whereas now most dining halls allow students to serve themselves at the buffet. But much has stayed the same for Armstrong. One example is Mountain Day, which is a favorite day of Armstrong’s because, “the whole school comes together. We get to leave the dining halls for a day, and students will wake up early to help dress the tables.”