Sue Isonaga
A Different View

Life After the War

As cafeteria manager at Lunalilo School, Sue is responsible for the planning and serving of over a thousand lunches a day.

With the birth of her third child, she decides to stay at home to care for her growing family.

Thirteen years later, she returns to cafeteria work at Pohukaina School, then Linekona and eventually Kauluwela School.

Sue retires in 1976 at the age of fifty-five.

Cafeteria Manager

[My job was] planning and to see the children were fed properly. [Not only that,] working with children.

Teaching Student Workers

At Pohukaina, we had some girls coming, girls who are pregnant. They came to cafeteria and I have to record that, to put in their points, I guess, to graduate. So I had several pregnant girls. Of course, the children who were teachable came in. But you know, it’s surprising, they are so — the heart is so open. Nothing mean about them. Really, really lovable children. I became attached to them and they became attached to me, too. So I really had a very enjoyable time there, even if it were for only two months.

[The children] wanted to know, “Why are they coming?” Usually, the Mainland people come, “Why are they working in the cafeteria?” You know, “They shouldn’t be doing that, they should be in school.”

But I think it was part of learning, too, because they came and they learn sanitation. You have to wash your hand before you work and teamwork. If teamwork, you work together, you can produce. And serving, too. Everything is teamwork, teamwork. And the same time, hygiene. You have to clean. Whenever you go out and come back, you have to wash your hand. You don’t scratch your head. We have caps.

So, to me, it was a learning experience and I think they enjoyed coming. Because I remember once when I was at Lunalilo, there was this one boy just kept swinging the plate over the counter. So then, I just dragged him into the storeroom. I gave him a good shaking. It’s a wonder I didn’t shake him hard enough that he would get hurt. But then I sent him out, I said, “I want you to leave the cafeteria and not come back until you are ready.” So the teacher came, and I told the teacher what happened because I had to send him back.

So every week, she tells me, “Can he come back? He wants to come back.” So I said, “We’ll see, in one more week.” You know, “Another week, and let’s see.” Then the week was over and he wanted to come back. So, the week was over, I took him back and he was a changed boy. Push the lunch out. You know, telling the other kids, “Don’t swing this. The lunch might go out and burn the other children.” So, even that, I think, it sort of helps.

Kauluwela School Cafeteria
Kauluwela School Cafeteria

[At Kauluwela] it was just a few students come to help serve during lunch hour but not food preparation. They would come to help us serve.

Planning and Preparing Meals

At Lunalilo, we were serving over a thousand lunches. But, we would for potatoes, we used [to] throw it in the thing, would roughen up and rub the potatoes and then we just take the eye out.

And for slicing, all hand, we slice the luncheon meat by the hand and cheese by the hand. Everything.

We have all these ovens, and then, top stove. And when I went back after all the years, I couldn’t get over it. Even a small school like Linekona had a mixer and a slicer. The mashed potatoes came in powder form and all you do is add hot water and butter and the thing will swirl and then you have mashed potato. Things all were pre-cut. Even vegetables, tossed salad, all mixed and everything. I just couldn’t get over it.

When I was at Lunalilo, we did all our own planning. But, afterwards, when I came back, the system had changed. We had the menus were all made up. So, we had to figure out what percent we’re going to use this. It had to be a planned meal, with so many ounces of protein, so many ounces of vegetables, starch and whatever.

So that part, I enjoyed. And trying to pre-cost your food, so you stay within a certain amount. So we had to do this, but they, more or less, had a menu for our whole Honolulu district. But even if you had the menu, it’s all different because the managers are different. And you plan differently.

So, all the other districts have their own supervisor. Some of them, they don’t want to go to just planned menu. They wanted to go on their own and buy whatever they wanted to. But we, in Honolulu, we always stayed within our contract items to buy. And you know, to shop around. We’d get instruction on how to use certain government commodities.

We had all these reports to make on government commodities received, how many lunches you served, how many free lunches or needy lunches you served. Then all that report has to go to the office at the end of the month. We had lots of paperwork to do, too.

We had all this meat from the government. Hamburger by the cases. If it’s something new, they would give us recipes. You can try this. But if it says meat loaf, we usually have our own method, so we do our own meat loaf. Even bread, we used to make all of our breads. Hamburger buns, French bread, biscuits, everything.

We baked everything because all the butter, the powdered milk and then the flour, powdered eggs sometimes.

After I came back, we bought the bread from Love’s Bakery. The bread came sliced, so we would butter it and serve.

I think [the entrees were] more or less standard American fare because we have to have so much of the meat, you know, protein, and so much of the vegetables and starch — potato, rice, bread — and then maybe dessert. So, it’s really [American], unless you try to go into Oriental food.

When I was at Lunalilo, we used to make chow fun and things like that. That was the days that we can plan our own menu. But after I went back to work after being out for so long, I think they had that menu that was supposed to be followed. But then, a lot of them will not — they’ll use accordingly. You know, you can switch the menu for some reason if one class is going out, so you going to cut them out and then do something else.

When they went on excursions, I remember I used to pack their lunch for them. Hamburger patties, carrot sticks, celery sticks and maybe a cookie or so.

We always bought with contracted items. We tried to live within the budget. If my meals, I pre-costed for sixty-nine cents, then I can use that and file, purchase my food. And then the report goes back to our main office, the home office, to our supervisors and all that. So, I guess they determine whether we losing the money or making the money or whatever. But I don’t think we made money. But the government commodities were a great help.

When I was at the Kahuku, [government commodities] was turkey, with all pinfeathers. So I would get a box of pinfeathers and get all plucking. But today, it comes all clean, not one single pinfeather on. And chicken used to come with all the heads on. We’d cut it up portion pieces. Today, it’s all cut and comes all frozen. All in one package. Fish sticks, all you have to do is take it out, put it in the microwave oven, it’s out in a few minutes. So many changes.

So far, I haven’t had [any complaints from students and parents]. My participation rate was always very good. Always over 90 percent.

I’ll say [my signature dish was] spaghetti. They like spaghetti, huh? I don’t know, Spanish rice, too, I guess.

Sometimes we made dessert. But then I used to make little buns because I had a lot of cranberries from the government. So I made an indentation right in the little bun and put a scoop of cranberries in there. It looked so pretty, whole tray, all with cranberries. Then we baked lot of cookies. When they gave us a commodity, maybe apples, then we can make apple crisp. But we would not go out to buy that, to use for dessert.

I would line up the meat on the tray and let’s say if we’re having two hundred for the first bell, two hundred, and then we’ll put the cheese on. And then, about few minutes before, then we just put it in the microwave oven and then take it out with the cheese melting, and you know, the hamburger is nice, and the bread is always sliced and in the oven to stay warm. So it just goes on and it’s all fresh. It’s not cooked ahead of time and then drying on the plate or whatever.

When I was at Kam[ehameha] III School, they were making salmon - something that we didn’t like. But we liked corn chowder.

But I think spaghetti is about the most favorite. They liked that French bread. We used to make all how many and they used to slice it and put butter on and put it on the tray. I enjoyed the baking part very much.

Raising Children

I was at Lunalilo for thirteen years, until we started having our children.

We had two. And then I was thinking, maybe I should go back to work. Then Sara appeared on the scene, my third one. So I just decided I’ll just stay at home. We weren’t making much and then, we had to take our children off to a baby-sitter, so I decided to just stay at home.

Isonaga Children
Sue Isonaga and her children

So I stayed home thirteen years with the children. When Sara became old enough to go to school, then I went back to work.

Return to Work

I substituted at Pohukaina School and then that was just a replacement for someone who went on maternity leave.

While I was there, Linekona opened. You know, the Linekona School for disturbed children. So, my supervisor told me, “Why don’t you try and apply for that?” So I did, and then I got that. So, I was at Pohukaina. But I really enjoyed that because at that time, when I went back to work, substitute, I was out thirteen years and I felt kind of lost in all that changes.

In fact, I went back to sub for Washington [Intermediate School] but I became sick. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat and all that. So, the doctor told me, “If it were you, I’d just stay home, get over this.”

But I said, “No, but I already made the commitment, so I’m going back to do my sub work.” That was the best thing for me because I saw all these children who needed help and then I was doing the work and I became very close to them. I think, gee, what am I doing feeling sorry for myself and all these children. So, I really enjoyed that. I became close to the children, too.

When I went to Linekona [School], it was children who were normal but disturbed. So, I enjoyed there, too. Then Kauluwela [School] had a vacancy, so I applied to that, so I got Kauluwela. So that’s where I retired from.

Kauluwela Cafeteria workers
Sue Isonaga at Kauluwela School

I’ve been retired since 1976. I was fifty-five, I had a bad herniated disc, so I was just limping. Herbert said, “You better quit already.”

“No, I cannot, ” because I still have to go for my so-many years, better.
He said, “No.”
So I retired at fifty-five.

Sue Isonaga's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Herbert and Sue Isonaga.

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