Students and staff at the Prairie Wind Middle School celebrated “Vickie Wagenman Week” on Nov. 9-13 in honor of the head chef’s final days at the school.
Wagenman celebrated her final days as she heads off into retirement after serving Independent School District 549 for 30 years.
Prior to serving for 20 years as the head cook at the PWMS, she worked part-time for three years at the Heart of the Lakes Elementary School and worked a year at the Perham High School.
Working in food service for the school’s was in Wagenman’s blood. Her mom worked as the head cook in Dent for 30 plus years. She started subbing for her and then was asked to come work in Perham.
“It’s been fun and it’s interesting. I have seen a lot of change from when I started. I started part time when my girls were really little and gradually got in full time,” Wagenman said. “I got in as head cook in 2000 and have been here ever since. I have been here since the opening of middle school. It has been fun, and I love the kids here. I’m glad I got to stay here the whole time.”
Prairie Wind Middle School principal Scott Bjerke said Wagenman has done a wonderful job leading the kitchen at the school.
“Vickie has done a wonderful job leading our kitchen over the years! She has risen to the challenges of adhering to complex nutrition and food safety standards as well as making sure the nutrition needs of our students were met,” Bjerke said. “She will be passing the spoon onto someone else and we wish her all the best in retirement!”
Krystal Boyd, Food Service Director for Perham Schools said Wagenman has been a tremendous asset to the school district and at PWMS.
“She has gone through a couple of triumphs and trials with staff members, but for the past three years it has been working out very well for her. We haven’t had turnover and she held a good crew,” Boyd said. “She takes pride in her position as lead cook. When we get complaints, she is more than apt to fix it and do the things that need to be done. If you have a question, she always has an answer for it. The kids take to her a lot too. Not just with her grandkids being that age, she just knows how to relate to that age of kids.”
Teresa Bontrager, a longtime co-worker of Wagenman, said that she is a good one and a person that looks out for everyone.
“It’s been good. She worked here for 10 years before I even came here and I worked with her at the middle school,” Bontrager said. “She did what she was supposed to do. She has been there a long time.”
Both Boyd and Bontrager said Wagenman was a jokester and that one of Bontrager’s favorite stories came around Halloween. She said they had an ugly mask and got into Wagenman’s office before she arrived. Bontrager said turned off all the lights and scared the living daylights out of her.
“I thought she was going to have a heart attack,” Bontrager said jokingly. “We would put stuffed rats and other items into the big pots and sneak into each other’s kitchens. Those were some of my favorite memories.”
Wagenman agreed that was one of her favorite stories and said they really got her with that one. She also shared other pranks she had with other staff members and fondly remembered those times. She said she is sure there will be more pranks this week in her final week.
Wagenman said she loves to sew and quilt and plans on spending time with her family and helping with the grandkids during her retirement.
“My girls all work and I want to be home to help out with that and I’m old enough,” Wagenman said. “Last spring, all my girls were working, and I said I’d stay home and help with their kids. I stayed home and helped with a lot of their stuff and I kind of liked it”
Wagenman had one of the kids come through the lunch line recently and asked her if she served his parents. Wagenman had a witty response for him.
“I said yeah, I served a lot of your mom’s and dad’s,” Wagenman said. “When you see the next generation, I think it’s time to leave. My girls were here and my oldest was in eighth grade when I came here, and she is going to be 40 next year. It’s been a long time.”
Boyd said Wagenman’s shoes will be tough to fill.
“Those lead cook positions, especially those that have been here that long, are very hard to fill. I’m not going to guarantee those shoes are going to be filled in two years,” Boyd said. “It takes time to mold and to get things running the way that she has had things running the past 20 years. All we can do is keep our fingers crossed and pray that our next person in there can meet those expectations and her expectations and fill those shoes even halfway.”
Wagenman’s advice for the next lead cook is to just enjoy the kids.
“Enjoy the kids because I think they like us because we serve their food, they know us and we feed them,” Wagenman said. “Just enjoy that part of it. It’s a lot of work but it’s still enjoyable at the end of the day.”