Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

39 years and still loving it

Her first paying job was at McDonald's, and at age 71 she's still going strong

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For decades, parents have wrapped a question around a threat.

"Want to spend your life asking 'Do you want fries with that?' " they'll snap at their unmotivated teens.

"Keep it up and you'll spend your life working at McDonald's."

Thelma Roider has done exactly that. She has manned the counter at the Nairn Avenue McDonald's for nearly 39 years.

It's been a great job, she says. She has no regrets. Spending a lifetime asking people if they'd like a Coke with that has been deeply satisfying. She loves the work. She is adored by many of her longtime customers.

She still sees some of her former teenage co-workers, now adults bringing their own children to the restaurant.

Roider is 71. McDonald's was her first paying job.

"There was an ad in the paper and I answered it," she says. "I've been here ever since."

She has a Grade 8 education, not uncommon for people her age with other responsibilities in life.

She was a wife and mother first.

McDonald's was new to the city and relatively new to the world when she was hired. The Nairn Avenue restaurant was number 1,192 in the global franchise.

It opened in a working-class neighbourhood. Today, construction workers, the guys from Boyd Autobody and area residents form her customer base.

Her three daughters were teenagers when she took the job. Roider had never worked outside the home.

This was her chance to make a bit of extra money.

She started on the register and was a hostess for a time, opening doors for people and greeting them. It was a little bit of civility in a restaurant that prides itself on efficiency.

When she started, she made $1.55 an hour. A Big Mac cost 55 cents.

She's now up to $12.65 an hour. A Big Mac is $4.19. She's fine with what she earns.

Roider starts at five in the morning and works until 11. She still pulls five shifts a week, smiling at customers and taking their orders. As much as things have changed, the habits of her customers remain the same.

"You know the order. People come in and you know it's a Big Mac, fries, no salt and a diet Coke. You know because that's what he has every day."

Everyone eats at McDonald's at some point, she says.

"You can get a Mercedes at the drive-thru," she says. "He wants his coffee and he wants it fast."

Despite her age, Roider says she has no trouble keeping up.

"It's a very busy job," says the buoyant red-haired senior. "We're all geared up for speed. The faster you get the orders out, the happier people are. Everyone's in a big hurry."

She knows when the family allowance cheques come out.

"We get really busy on the 20th. Families get a little bit of extra money and they bring their kids in for a treat. You don't have to look at the calendar."

The only time she has struggled has been when the chain changed computer systems.

"It's a little bit harder for me," she shrugs. "I just keep calm and enjoy my life."

She says she has no trouble relating to her co-workers, many of them young enough to be her grandchildren.

"It's terrific. You kind of come down to their level. You find out what they're interested it, what kind of music they listen to. You just listen and you treat them with respect.

"You do that and they respect you, too."

She has seen McDonald's through all its transformations. She couldn't have foreseen a day when the menu started selling healthier items.

"It's changed big-time. Now that we've added the salads, you get a healthier sort of person coming in. They might still want a Big Mac but they like that there's a choice."

She remembers all the Happy Meal promotions that brought in families -- and the parents desperate to find the desired toys.

As she sits in one of the restaurant's plastic bucket chairs, customers come along to kibitz. She knows them by name and by order. They know her name, too.

Thelma Roider is not just a fast-food server. She's part of the reason people come to this location.

"I think a lot of people think this is just what you've accepted for your job," she says. "That's not me. There's a lot of people have been working for years and they retire.

"They don't know what to do with themselves. I'm not having that problem. I'm going on 39 years. Wow. Now I'm going to hit 40 years.

"I guess in my whole life you could say McDonald's is the greatest thing that has happened to me."

She says her attitude is the key to her success.

"It's my smile. It's just contagious. That's what people have told me. My personality keeps them going."

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

 

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 11, 2009 B1

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.
 
lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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