Lunch lady shares her service and compassion for more than 50 years

Published: Sunday, Nov. 4 2012 4:00 p.m. MST

Resources were limited at the time but Florence's mother put together a lovely little reception. "It was hard for them for their oldest daughter to get married in the Catholic Church," she said.

But Florence's mother had deep respect for Herb. "She'd tell me, 'He's such a good man. You take good care of him.' "

While in California, the couple's first child was born. Herb's military service took the young family to Chicago. When the war ended, he worked in the early days of television engineering in Illinois. 

Herb Holtshouser brought his young family back to Utah when he got a job establishing what is now Channel 4 in Salt Lake City. Herb retired from the public television station KUED, where he was chief engineer. He passed away in 2003.

The Holtshousers' children, Barbara, Wayne, Ruth, Richard, Jean and Joe were raised in the Catholic church and all are graduates of Judge Memorial High School.

Florence was a regular volunteer at Judge, too, until she was offered a job in the school kitchen when her youngest son was a freshman.

On school holidays, Florence would volunteer for CCS. Early on, she worked out of the basement of the Cathedral of the Madeleine, handing out clothing, toys, canned goods and cake mixes. Her children often tagged along, playing nearby while she assisted people.

The gift of service apparently made a strong impression on the Holtshousers' eldest child, who became a nun in the Holy Cross order.

Holtshouser, known to generations of Judge students as Mrs. H., retired from the school after 40 years.

Jeanette Sawaya, a college counselor who has worked at Judge for nearly 30 years herself, said Florence's smile would "light up Monday mornings and her kind words would always warm my heart."

Many mornings, Judge teachers, students and staff entered a school filled with the aroma of Florence's cinnamon rolls baking in the kitchen.

Linda Simpson, who teaches English at Judge, said Florence has an uncanny ability to meet people where they are.

"Florence is probably the warmest, most welcoming person I've ever known. It didn't matter if you were the principal or the newest freshman, she treated them the same."

Joe Olenick, who has worked with Florence since 2005, said he rarely socializes with his co-workers. Florence is such "an alright lady" that he's making an exception to attend her awards dinner.

"I don't go nowhere. The big brass could be up there having a meeting and I don't go. But Flo is very special," he said.

Another man eating lunch at the dining room said he, too, appreciates Florence's deft touch with people others readily ignore.

"Some of the people here feel like society has left them behind," said Michael Callis. She just has that compassion."

Minkevitch said it's a compassion deeply rooted in her faith.

"You know what I see in a lot of their eyes?" Holtshouser said of the men, women and children she serves. "I see Jesus."

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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