Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Change on the menu for Omak waitress

Kathryn Olson
Kathy Olson: "Life’s always tough. You just keep going.”

At 9 a.m. Thursday, the Corner Bistro in Omak, Wash., is nearly empty. People lucky enough to have jobs are already at work. The unemployed, including 450 laid off when both lumber mills closed, aren’t shelling out for French toast and a medley of seasonal fruits.
     Kathy Olson is on the 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift. Many here know her as “the lunch lady” for the 15 years she spent working at the Omak School District. Now she’s back to waitressing. Because business is slow, she has a few minutes to talk.
     “Originally, I was going to be a school counselor,” she says. “I made a lot of poor choices when I was young. Then I decided to make some better ones.”
     One better choice is to find a job that pushes her mind, instead of punishing her body. “I have a bad back,” she says. “I won’t make it to retirement doing physical labor.”
     Another is to revive her goal of working with children. She has a lot of experience. Kathy is the youngest of eight, has raised two children of her own, and the two of her significant other. She’s now raising her daughter’s two children.
     But life experience doesn’t fill out a resume. What Kathy needs is a bachelor’s degree, and Omak is far from the nearest university.
     In spring 2009, she enrolled in WSU Online.
     “I chose WSU Online because I’m familiar with Washington State University,” she says, “and because it has the Pullman campus. I can actually be a part of the graduation ceremony. It will set an example for my children.”
     Kathy is due to graduate in 2012 with a social sciences degree. “I love the program,” she says. “I love it.” More...     A man calls across the dining room. He wants a slice of lemon for his water. She gets it and sits back down. It’s a rare moment of rest amid working, studying, and raising grandchildren. “I look at college as a second job,” she says. “That’s how I get through it when it gets tough.”
     Her partner of 17 years, Mike Craigen, supplies not only crucial assistance – tutoring, baby-sitting, cooking – but also extra motivation.
     Craigen is a Vietnam-era veteran who worked on big machinery, taught management in the Army, and ran heavy-equipment shops. Then an injury left him disabled.
     “It really woke me up,” she said. “He went from being a capable hard-working man to a man who can’t go anywhere. He’s pretty much a prisoner in his own house. You can only push your body so far, and I already have back issues. When I get to retirement, I’d like to enjoy it.”
     Kathy’s GPA is 3.67, and she’s been on the President’s Honor Roll twice. She credits her “go-to guy,” WSU Online academic advisor Craig Stephens. “He truly has been my advisor. He’s been wonderful,” she says.
     “I expect her to graduate with honors,” Craig says. “She has the right to be proud, and WSU is proud of her.”
     But Kathy is just doing what needs to be done.
     “You have two options. You can whine about the situation you’re in, or you can do something about it,” she says. “Yeah, it’s tough. Life’s always tough. You just keep going.”
     It’s nearly 10 a.m. The last customers have left and Kathy has no more time to talk.
     “I’ve got to go wash windows now,” she says. “I’ve got to work.”

By Richard H. Miller/WSU Online

No comments:

Post a Comment