'She did her job with care': Middle school remembers late cafeteria manager
Before a Veterans Day assembly last month at Glen Crest Middle School, about 40 guests of honor were supposed to meet in the cafeteria over light refreshments.
But Connie Meier wasn't about to serve mere snacks in her cafeteria. The cafeteria manager showed up at the Glen Ellyn school with a box of decorations and plaques designating branches of the armed service as a token of appreciation for the veterans recognized at the ceremony.
"It's like those little touches. She would do that with everything day in and out, and I think the kids noticed that," Principal Kim Price said.
Five days after the assembly, the nurturing Meier died at 68 years old. She had suffered a massive stroke.
Students decided to pay tribute to Meier with a fundraiser that ended Friday.
The obituary for Meier, the proud owner of four dogs, encouraged donations to Helping Paws, a Minnesota nonprofit that breeds and trains assistance dogs for veterans and people with disabilities. So five Glen Crest eighth-graders devised a quirky fundraiser inspired by a book they were reading at the time of Meier's death.
The teens placed a donation bucket in the cafeteria and collected pledges -- ultimately raising more than $250 for Helping Paws -- through a contest that had students striking a yoga pose in the gym. The winners in each grade were those who held the "Crow" pose the longest.
"It was just a very tangible way for the kids to channel their grief and show what Connie meant to them," Price said.
Often the first person to arrive to school, Meier began her work day before 5 a.m. She could be found preparing a giant bowl of puppy chow, a crowd-pleasing mix of cereal, peanut butter and chocolate.
"She worked in a middle-school cafeteria, but she would take the time to do things like pulling a panel of kids in together to do taste sampling of different food items to make sure she was giving them things that they liked," Price said.
Believing food brought people together, Meier treated teachers to doughnuts. On the school custodian's birthday, she gave him a special cake.
Teacher Cindi Baker runs a before-school reading club with the librarian. When Meier found out the girls in the group liked frappuccinos, she popped in one day to deliver iced drinks.
"She didn't just do her job. She did her job with care," Price said.
Baker's students -- Nathan Zambori, Naseeruddin Mohammed, James Folkerts, Hayden Joseph and LeAndre Matthews -- approached her with the idea for the fundraiser.
"She was really kind. She cared a lot about us," said Zambori, 14.
Meier also showed kindness to a cafeteria employee who was in a difficult financial situation. Meier helped her find a place to stay and a way to get to work, knowing it was a lifeline, Price said.
Baker nominated her for districtwide recognition -- the "89 Empowers Award" -- that Meier won this year. She was overwhelmed.
"She came up to me and she said, 'I can't believe you did that,' and gave me a big hug," Baker said. "And I said, 'You deserve everything. Every kind of kudos you've got, you deserve that.'"