Going fishin' "Miss Jackie" retires after 44 years at Catawba College

SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - Few faces on the Catawba College campus are more familiar than that of Anna Cauthen, but few know her by her given name.

If you mention "Miss Jackie," there is instantaneous recognition.

Catawba provided a wonderful story to WBTV on Miss Jackie's retirement:

Miss Jackie, a 44-year fixture in Catawba College's Dining Hall, retired May 6.  Members of the college community gathered that day at a reception hosted by Chartwells, the college's food service provider, to celebrate her long tenure and share memories.

Miss Jackie, actually Annie Louise Freeman Cauthen (her aunt named her Jackie as a baby), was born in Salisbury and came to work at Catawba in 1970.  She joined her sister-in-law, Miss Dot, actually Dorothy Cauthen who was already working in the dining hall in charge of the desserts and catering.

Miss Jackie says she loved her job from the beginning.  Initially, she cooked for 26 years, priding herself on her fried chicken and stew beef.  But her favorite part of the job was being involved with the catering.  "It was something different than kitchen duty – the food cooked for catering had to be special."

In recent years, Miss Jackie has been responsible for keeping the dining hall clean, the counters wiped down, and replenishing the foods depleted from the various serving stations.  This still allows her to interact with students, faculty and staff and to flash her characteristic and contagious smile.

She has seen many changes through the years.  The dining hall, she notes, "has been done [redecorated and reconfigured] three different times," since she arrived.  The food has changed too.  It is healthier and not as heavy as it once was.

"The food choices today – the students are so blessed and they don't even realize it."

Students also have changed as well as their pranks.  "The pranks aren't as bad today as they were years ago and when they did pull one of those things it was always close to graduation."  She admonishes that her stories about those pranks are not to be shared.

"When students come back after they've graduated, they stick their head in and holler 'hello' at me," she recalls.  "Loving people makes me happy."

Miss Jackie is a Salisbury native, the daughter of a tenant farmer "who farmed for a lot of people" so his large family would have a place to live. She knows the value of hard work and the joys of small pleasures.  She has three children, daughter Annette and sons Pal, Jr. and Terry.  She had a fourth child, Paulette, who died when she was but six weeks old. Her husband, Pal, died in 1973, but she doesn't dwell on what she has lost, but rather on what she has.

What advice would Miss Jackie give those Catawba students past and present that might help them live richer and fuller lives?  She answers quickly:  "Make sure you take care of yourself.  You can't work if you don't take care of yourself.  And try to do good work."

When she's not working in Catawba's dining hall, Miss Jackie will likely be in church at Moore's Chapel AME Zion in Cleveland or at a basketball or football game.  She's a big West Rowan High School supporter because that's where her children went to school, and of course, she supports Catawba -- she knows and has helped feed so many of its student athletes.

Catawba's Assistant Dean for Campus Activities and Programming Jan Gillean calls Miss Jackie "the best sports fan ever" and recalls her sitting in the stands when Gillean was a student at West Rowan.  "I was gone for 20 years from this area and when I came back to see a game at West Rowan, Miss Jackie was still there, sitting in the stands and she looked the same."

For Miss Jackie, leaving Catawba is bittersweet. "I'm gonna miss Catawba because this was my job for so long, but I'm going to clean up my house – do some spring cleaning, and then I'm gonna go fishing and go visiting."