Longtime Lakeside cashier Lois Terminella: 'I just love the kids'

In this issue’s Spotlight, meet Lois Terminella, the first person to greet students for two meals a day at Lakeside Dining Center. Beyond her work duties, she has offered reassurance and a shoulder to lean on for more than three decades.

Q. When did you start working at SUNY Oswego?
A. Sept. 8, 1981. When I started, I was in the bakeshop for six months. I loved it, but I wanted to see what the dining halls were like. I went into salads here at Lakeside on the morning shift. Then there was a job as a checker cashier, nighttime, and I did that. Then I bid on a morning checker-cashier job, and here I am—34 years later. I still love it.

Q. What are your duties at Lakeside?
A. I work 6:30 to 2:30 Sunday to Thursday. I greet the customers—students, friends, parents—and I make sure their IDs swipe. I do the coffee area, make sure all the coffee and supplies are filled, and keep things wiped down. I’m a customer service person, too. If a student or parent asks me, “Where’s this?” I direct them.” “Can I get that?” I try to get the boss and make sure we can do it for them.

Q. What do you think of the students at SUNY Oswego?
A. I just love the kids, love talking to them, and if they have problems, I try to make sure I direct them in the right way. Parents Weekend is the big one, over 900 people. I love just listening to the parents. They say, “Thanks for taking care of my child.” It makes you feel good. In the (average) morning, we get about 500, lunch usually 600 to 700, dinner 700 to 800. Since Waterbury has been down, we’ve been lower.

Q. You have a reputation for deeply caring about students. How do you show that?
A. I see them come in as freshmen and you can tell by the looks on their faces that they are afraid. I like to talk to them and reassure them. I just try to make them feel comfortable and let them know they can come talk to me whenever they’re scared or lonely. I like to help people and make them feel happy. If I see they’re struggling with an issue, I will also refer them to the proper person to help them, such as our campus registered dietitian, Sarah Formoza, or to Mary Walker Health Center.

Q. Have you ever been tempted to change jobs?
A. I like it here. I really do enjoy my co-workers, the student employees and all the bosses here. It’s just a great place to work. I worked at a nursing home prior to this as I went to school for nursing, but ultimately I went into food service instead. I’m so happy I have this job.

Q. Where were you born and raised?
A. I was born in Oswego and I’ve been here ever since. I have a house on the west side.

Q. What can you tell us about your family?
A. I have three sisters, my father and several nieces and nephews. My mother passed away about eight years ago. We’re a very close family and on my days off we like to spend time together whenever we can. That’s nice.

Q. What do you like to do in your off hours?
A. I like to go out to eat. I like to go shopping at the malls. I like going to movies and going for walks. I work at a summer job in Oswego County, at Camp Hollis. That keeps me really busy with younger kids, 8 to 14. I end here in May and go right to camp. In August, I come back here. I’ve been doing that 34 years, too. I’m the kitchen manager there. I work with 16-year-old kids through (ages) 19-20 in the kitchen. I recruit some of them from here, and some of my coworkers work there. I go in at 4 a.m. until about 3 p.m. and sometimes longer.

Q. So you have a summer supervisory job—what marks your management style?
A. I believe in a gentle but firm policy. If you ask someone nicely to do something, they’re more inclined to do it than if you were to bark orders at them. I try to talk to people and give them positive reaffirmation every time I have to reprimand them so there is always a positive aspect to their coaching. Over the last several years I improved my management techniques with help from my boss (at Lakeside), Shannon Brooks, and I try to emulate her management style.  Sometimes my previous workers at the camp come back years later and say, “Lois, thank you so much. You made a big difference in my life.”

Q. Do you ever take a vacation?
A. Spring break I like to go away. I go to Florida just to get away. Winter break I stay home. I do work a lot, and I work overtime on campus. I work across campus at other dining centers, doing ticket taking. When they call up, I sign up for it and extend my day through dinner and sometimes late night, too. I see all my friends from their freshman year, and they all say, “Hey, Lois! Yo, Lois!” I say, “Are you behaving yourself over here? I can’t keep tabs on you over here.” (Laughs.) They usually come and see me (at Lakeside) in the spring. It makes you feel good to see them all. I just feel that I want to give, I’m healthy and I just want to work and stay busy. I enjoy what I’m doing. I wouldn’t have it any other way, really.

Q. Do you cook for yourself?
A. When you spend all day working in locations that serve quality food, I rarely go home hungry. (Laughs)