Before the student rush arrives, before the flurry of classes and homework takes over campus life, Linda Taber and Mary Taylor are at Stevenson Dining Hall preparing to greet students and help them start another day.
Taylor referred Taber for the checker job three years ago, but has known her since Taber was two.
“We’re from Oakland, Ill.,” Taylor said. “Big town of a thousand. Been neighbors our whole lives.”
“And friends,” Taber added.
The two strike a balance between the professional and personal. When the camera is on, Taylor and Taber give their interview without the little chuckles that permeate their conversations otherwise. As we disassembled the camera equipment, Taber wondered aloud whether she and Taylor would come off as a Lucille Ricardo and Ethel Mertz-like couple.
Taylor and Taber have a similar friendly relationship with the students who pass through their lines. Taylor said Stevenson Dining Hall serves many of the student athletes whom are all housed nearby. Taber even enjoys joking with them.
“With the football team we tell them ‘You better win tonight or you’ll be doing dishes in the morning.’”
The two also have a love of the international students that come through their lines.
Taber said, “We try to make them feel welcome because you know they’re away from home, away from familiar surroundings. Some of them are very shy at first, but after a week or two you can see them start to smile and you build your conversations from that.”
Taber shared one story about students from Turkey she met and was looking forward to seeing again.
“It was coming up on Christmas break and I just happened to say ‘I’ll see you after the break,’ and they said they were just here for a semester,” Taber recalled. “We were just getting into a friendship. It was a sad time but it was a memorable time too because they went back home and were in their familiar surroundings.”
Both agree that seeing the students is the highlight of their work day, but that it can be difficult at year’s end.
“You build a lot of new friendships through the students," Taber said. "When they leave, you’re sad. They become family.”
Many students make an effort to keep in touch once they have moved on from Eastern, and some do so even years later, Taylor said.
“I had a girl who worked here and every year I get a Christmas card from her,” Taylor said. “She’s been gone eight years, she sends me pictures of her children. It makes you feel good that they thought to keep in contact with you.”