Mary returns to the Commons

Billy Varble — Guest writer

When someone says the name “Mary Oleson,” many students’ faces light up. Some will remark on her kindness, her sympathy, and much more. After falling sick and being out of work for about a month, Oleson returned to the Commons on Feb. 1.

While many know of her because of her cashiering position, a lot of people may not know much about her humble beginnings.

Around seven years ago, Dordt Dining hired Oleson to work in catering. Oleson eventually jumped from catering in the Commons to catering at the Grille. Two and a half years ago, she returned to the Commons — this time as the cashier. At the beginning of her job, Food Service Director Mindi Sneller told her, “Mary, you are the face of Dordt Dining.”

“I automatically think of her soft-spokenness, plain and simple,” Sneller said. “Nobody comes

close to that.”

One of Oleson’s favorite parts of the job is the experience of getting to know everyone.

“I never get to know [students] really deep and wide, but personalities come out,” Mary said. “There are some that come in quiet— some that come in a little more reserved. And by the time they leave this place, I’ve watched them taken ownership of their world— how they have claimed this place as home and embraced it wholly, and then watching them go.”

The simple greeting, “How are you doing?” rings differently from Oleson. She isn’t asking the question to fill silent air; instead, she is really asking, “How are you doing?” She cares about students’ days and wants to learn more about their lives, knowing many students by name.

“The impact I have on you guys: that’s the impact you have on me,” Oleson said.

Her caring for the students doesn’t stop at the commons. Oleson has attended hockey games, basketball games, volleyball games, concerts, plays. She added that, when the season comes, she’s excited to see some baseball.

At the end of the academic year when students are dressed in caps and robes ready to receive their diplomas, Oleson will be in the crowd.

“I send them off,” Oleson said, “and I say goodbye to as many as I can. It is a thrill to watch them step into life.”

There are a lot of good days, but Oleson’s best days come once a year: they are the first day of classes at the beginning of the semester. As for bad days, Oleson said there are none.

“Can’t say I’ve had one,” Oleson said. “When friends, family, or even students come over to me and tell me that they’ve had a bad day, I tell them, ‘I don’t believe in bad days.’ I have bad moments, but I will not give the Enemy my entire day.”

When the holidays come around, Mary’s hospitality doesn’t go unrewarded. Before winter break began last semester, seven students gifted Mary with Christmas cards. One student even gave her some of her favorite chocolate.

“It was about Christmas holiday spirit,” Oleson said. “[The students] gave them as a thank you for being me.”

On the second day of winter break, Oleson fell ill, leaving her in bed for a month. After taking time to recover, Oleson returned to the Commons on Feb. 1. The illness’s aftermath still clung onto her, draining her of her energy. But at 5 p.m. when the dinner rush of students came in, it felt as though a heavy weight was lifted off her and her warm smile returned.

Reactions from students ranged from “Hi Mary!” to “Good to see you back!” to “Bless the Lord!” Students close to Mary came around the counter and hugged her. A few students even exchanged some cheek kisses. Despite the variety of greetings, the message was the same: it’s good to have Mary back.

For the time being, Mary will be the cashier on the dinner shift as a part-time employee. She hopes to return as a full-time employee once she is back on her feet.

“The Lord has provided me with everything I need,” Oleson said. “There is nothing I lack. If there is a prayer I would have, it’s that I would give the students something that they can use every day of their lives and give to other people.”

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