For many, the smell, taste and presentation of cafeteria food can be divisive to say the least, but thanks to a cashier at the Student Union, no one comes or goes without a smile on their face.
Some who attend other schools think about processed, fat-filled foods. Others think about the daily rotating options and variety of food genres. Only students who dine in the J.W. Jones Student Union have the pleasure of meeting Donna Yanks on their way in to eat though.
Yanks has been an employee at Northwest for nine years, but she has lived in Maryville for 30 years, so knowing her by her name, face or at least her never-fading smile is a given for on-campus students.
With hundreds of names and faces to learn, it would come as no surprise to hear Yanks is unable to remember every single person who stops by for a meal. Of course, Yanks is different and full of shocking characteristics and has nothing short of one of the biggest hearts to touch the University.
Big or small, introverted or extroverted, Yanks probably knows everyone. Names, occupations, social life; the list goes on. Yanks says a gifted memory is not to blame for her talent of recollection.
“It’s the kids, I just love the kids,” Yanks said. “I’m like their mother or their grandmother. I’ll kid with them or belittle them; they love it. That’s it; it is all about the kids.”
Stepping away from the cash register at the lower Union entrance with Yanks yields all kinds of interesting responses. Despite primarily remaining at the same spot during most of her time at Northwest, Yanks manages to know everyone no matter where she goes. It seems her biggest problem is finding time to say hello to every individual who walks by. Even still, Yanks finds a way.
“Yes, there are hundreds of them, and that’s exactly why I like it,” Yanks said. “They’ll talk to me about their exams, how school is going or what their work life is like. I have some kids who will stop by just about every morning.”
Michael Mickelson, a senior international business major, is one of these people who often visits Yanks. He says her caring nature speaks for itself, and never goes unnoticed.
“In a place where most workers barely speak to customers and lack enthusiasm, Donna has always shown a level of care and energy,” Mickelson said. “With her own quirks, she betters the moods of those around her.”
One of Yanks’ trademark ways to interact with students is how she chooses to celebrate ‘hump day.’ ‘Hump day’ is the toughest day of a long week for many, but Yanks aims to alleviate the stress that comes along with the dreaded day.
“Whether it is putting up a small sign of a camel on Wednesdays asking, ‘What day is it’ or striking up brief conversations. (Her passion for caring) is a near daily routine for her with dozens if not hundreds of students during the week and possibly thousands of students from over the years.”
Mickelson has been observant of Yanks’ ability to spread genuine generosity. He says kindness like hers is not easy to find, especially behind a cash register for a dining hall. Mickelson says Yanks is remarkable, and she will be a component of Northwest he will miss dearly.
“She adds a human element to the environment that does not feel artificial or forced,” Mickelson said. “Plain and simple, I choose to believe that she is caring as she is by nature. Having met her off campus once, I will attest that it is not something just as simple as organizational policies for expecting a set behavior from its staff.”
Mickelson is not alone in his feelings either. Stopping and asking anyone in the Union if they know who ‘Donna’ is and nine times out of 10 they will characterize her as the sweet, nice and/or caring cashier from downstairs.
However, the students of Northwest could not go on without offering Yanks gifts to show their gratitude. Whether it be by singing songs, giving her jars of candy or even just valentines signed with the names of dozens of students, the kids want Yanks to know they care just as much about her as she does them.
Yanks has dealt with her fair share of darker times, including losing family members throughout the years. She says the ones who get her through all of it are friends, family and her job. Yanks is a kick of positivity for so many as they have their lunch break from classes. What many may not realize though, is the campus kindness of this level goes both ways.
Campus would not be the same without Yanks and she does adore the company of the Northwest students. The only thing she says she really wishes was better in the winter time is the temperature at the cash registers.
“(After they changed the) cafeteria to all you can eat, they moved us out here closer to the doors,” Yanks said. “Now we freeze to death out here. I don’t know who designed it that way. I kept telling them to get me a heating pad for my feet. They said ‘does anyone make those?’ and I said ‘I don’t know, but you find me one.’”
Even with the recently chilling cold temperatures hitting Maryville recently, Yanks still comes to work everyday at 11 a.m. to make sure she gets to see every face that stops by for food.
Despite only standing in one place for most of her time on the job, Yanks touches the lives of hundreds. She doesn’t need to give them anything, offer assistance or even help them with school work though. Yanks keeps students coming back with a simple swipe of their Bearcat cards and a smile. It’s her passion, and nothing is going to stop her now after nine years of service.
Most Bearcats agree, Yanks is the bright spot of the Union, and without her, ‘hump day’ and Northwest as a whole just wouldn’t seem as positive.