Retirement a la carte
Billie Cowell was expecting that this past Monday was going to be a rough day at work. It was to be her last day at Triton, a place where she has worked for 26 years.
Cowell started as the head cook at Dodge Center Elementary School. After four years, the company she was working for as cook was replaced by Taher, and she moved to the new company as the head cook.
After another year, she said she considered taking a job with a different school and had actually turned in her resignation to the Triton position when the Triton food service director quit. She found out that her resignation had not been acted on yet so she rescinded that, told the other district she would not be coming to work there, and began her career as Triton food service director.
“I always felt like Triton was ‘my’ school,” she said, and that was where her loyalty was.
When she first started as head cook, she said, “I didn’t know anything.” But, she added, she was a farmers’ daughter and so she knew about hard work and also cooking from scratch as that was what they always did.
She grew up in McGregor, Iowa, she said, and after graduation from high school, she worked for a number of years at the bank there.
When she married Jeff Cowell, she said, the couple moved to Dodge Center where he works at McNeilus Truck.
Once in Dodge Center, she said, Charlotte Lewis was the baker and helped her settle into her new role as a school cook.
That first job at the school, she laughed, paid $6.25 an hour.
Over the years, Cowell said, she has worked with a lot of superintendents, and they have all been supportive of the food service department.
Food service has changed over the years including federal guidelines on what can be served and how it’s prepared.
Still, she said, the majority of food served to students at Triton is still “made from scratch.” She has also implemented some ideas of her own such as highlighting a specific vegetable each month, the Chopped Junior competition two years ago and last year’s Kids in the Kitchen program that gave Triton Elementary youngsters a chance to learn some cooking techniques.
This year the food service staff prepared and served a Thanksgiving meal to the middle and high school students family style.
Cowell also came up with the idea to bake apple and pumpkin pies to sell to Triton staff and faculty the week before Thanksgiving. All the money raised from the sale of the pies was put into a fund to help reduce negative school lunch accounts.
The Cowells also tap maple trees to make maple syrup and every spring the couple invited the kindergarten classes on a field trip to their home to see how the syrup is made.
Cowell is scheduled for hip surgery later this month and said she originally considered taking a leave of absence from her duties at the school but ultimately decided it was time to retire.
After she has recovered from the surgery, she said she plans to spend more time with her granddaughters, Lucy, five months, and Lily, 12. She also plans to put together some cookbooks for her daughter and granddaughters.
She loves to do puzzles, she said, and also plans to start knitting again. She also has friends who come to the school each day to walk and she plans on joining them.
And, she and Jeff will continue to host kindergarten field trips at their home.
Any travel plans will have to wait, she said, as Jeff still has a couple of years before he can retire. Still, the couple has bought a camper and for the first year at least is planning on taking it to nearby locations.
Although she will miss Triton, she said she is leaving the food service department in good hands as Misty Langlie, who has been the head cook, is taking her place as director.