Gloria Peterson has been an important member of the Southern Miss family for 29 years. But all good things must come to an end, and Ms. Gloria has now officially retired from The Fresh Food Company.
Last Friday, Nov. 13, was her last day of working as a server for Eagle Dining. Peterson was honored and celebrated by colleagues, students and university officials for her service one last time at The Fresh Food Company with a surprise retirement party.
Peterson said she did not know that she was going to get surprised. She described being speechless when one of her managers revealed the celebration before her last shift. She said that it was truly special, and that she’s overwhelmed by everyone’s kindness.
“Oh, a family! A family outside of my family. I love this place. I made some good friends here. The students, they have been great. I will miss them, and I will miss y’all,” Peterson said. “Serving is what God wanted me to do and still want[s] me to do.”
Peterson said she wanted to keep on serving on her last day at work and did not want to stop. For her first day of retirement, though, Peterson is going to sit down, relax and spend the day with her five-year-old. Peterson also said that she wants to grow flowers in her garden and drive her five-year-old to school with all of her new free time.
“I did not get the chance to go to college, [so I] went straight to work. I’m glad that my grandkids and my children had the chance to go to college. Maybe one day, maybe I can do that now. Because I have always thought about getting a culinary license,” Peterson laughed. “But I don’t like driving, so it will have to be online.”
Peterson said she never thought people in the office would pay attention to servers. However, that has never been her experience with Southern Miss. Peterson said that no one at the Eagle Dining made her feel less than others, and that people like Lauren Brescher, who works in the office, are like family to her.
Lauren Brescher, the marketing manager for Eagle Dining, has known Peterson since she started working for Southern Miss in March 2015. Brescher said she instantly knew that Peterson was a special employee.
“She is the kind of person who even though she’s never met you, she makes you feel like you’ve known her forever,” said Brescher. “I think it is a wonderful thing, especially in college because there are so many students who come here from near and far. Some feel very lonely and she is definitely someone who can brighten their day and make them feel welcomed here at USM.”
In the years that Peterson has worked at Southern Miss, she has been able to meet people from all walks of life, and appreciates each individual who passes through her food line.
“I have met all of them. Germans, Africans, Indians and people from Japan, everyone! I always wanted to learn at least one of their languages,” Peterson laughed. “That’s what I like about it. Everyone laughs and talks together, everybody sits together and everybody eats together. And being black, and especially where I came from, I never thought it would be like that.”
Brescher said that it was Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker’s idea to organize Peterson’s retirement celebration. Barker, along with the rest of Hattiesburg, wanted to honor her for making such a huge impact on the Southern Miss community.
“Mayor Barker heard that she was retiring, and he knew of her when he went to school here[, so] he gave her the proclamation,” said Brescher.
Katelynn Booker, a senior majoring in childhood family sciences, said she met Peterson before coming to school here at a Black and Gold Day tour. Booker described Peterson being warm and welcoming to everyone even before she attended Southern Miss, and that it always stuck with her.
“She even left an impression on my mom. My mom knows her name, remembers everything she said and she is always asking about her,” said Booker. “I just love how Ms. Gloria’s spirit always changes somebody’s mood for the better [as soon as she asks,] ‘How are you doing today? What can I get for you, my baby? How you percolatin’?’ I just hope that she enjoys her retirement, this new stage in her life, and [knows] we are going to miss her.”