Every Monday through Friday, for 46 years, it's been a labor of love for Newman Elementary School's lunch lady.
Irmtraut Schessler has been walking a few blocks from her home to Newman Elementary in Billings daily.
Tuesday was no different, but her destination looked a lot different when she rounded the corner to the playground.
Irmtraut, better known as “Miss Irma” at the school, was met by hundreds of students, colleagues, family and friends. All of them, wanting to celebrate and give back just a little of what Miss Irma has given them over the last four-plus decades.
“Miss Irma, truly, is an incredible individual in so many ways,” said Newman Principal Joe Walsh. “She is extremely feisty. She's full of energy. She's 83 years old but you would never know that. She comes every day with a smile on her face, ready to serve kids. She's just a delight to be around. She uplifts the students, the staff and, I'm so fortunate that we have her here on our team.”
Forty-six years is a long time to stay in any one job, but Irmtraut said it all went fast. “I enjoy children. That's why I did that for so many years. I had my summers off, my weekends off, my evenings off. I kind of liked it.”
And her students like her. Fifth-grader Savannah said her smile makes her day. “I’m usually in an okay mood, but when I see her, I’m happy.”
Miss Irma’s best known for speaking German, joking with and peddling her hot lunches to students in line.
Fifth-grader Zoe said that banter is what comes to mind when she thinks about Miss Irma. That, and Miss Irma’s kindness, said Zoe. “She’s a very compassionate person.”
Miss Irma interacts with students on average of about five seconds each day, but those five seconds in line have left lasting impressions for decades.
“They will always remember a nice lunch lady,” said Irma. “I always treat everybody nice. I encourage them, tell them they can become president, if they eat good.”
Irma’s son, Gordon Schessler, did a favor for Principal Walsh Tuesday. He followed and came up behind his mom as she entered school grounds to make sure she didn’t turn around and go home when she realized this was all for her.
Schessler knows how important Irma’s service and presence has been at Newman. “She’s been well-loved and respected here. Those Germans can be a little bit vocal and a little bit stubborn, but it’s all been good and it’s all out of love and caring and respect. I’m just blessed to have her as my mom.”
This spring, Miss Irma will retire. The staff and students already miss her. But to honor her and her legacy, the Newman Elementary kitchen, as of Tuesday, is now named “Irmtraut’s Kitchen.”
“She’s irreplaceable,” said Walsh. “How do you honor someone who's dedicated 46 years of their life to the same school, the same kitchen, all those students, all those families?”
Walsh said the plaque will hang next to the kitchen doorway for all to see.
“To serve as an example and a role model for all of us, really. How to do your job and how to love your job," he said.
It reads: “IRMTRAUT SCHESSLER, For 46 years she has served the students of Newman Elementary with dedication, love and a smile on her face! From this day forward let the kitchen at Newman forever be known as Irmtraut’s Kitchen.”
And below Miss Irma’s photo, in German, it says “We thank you for your kindness, your passion, and your service for our kids. Whatever you do, do it with all your heart.”
Sounds a bit like Miss Irma, who lives her own words, served with a smile.