No one like Nancy

December 4, 2015

‘Mom to everyone’ retires from JCCC

Monica Sambuu went looking for her boss one day. She found her in the basement washing dishes.

“I asked her what she was doing. She said, ‘Oh, the dish washer said he didn’t feel well, so I let him go home.’ But that’s Nancy. She was my boss’s boss, and here she was doing dishes,” Sambuu said.

Johnson County Community College says goodbye to Nancy Whedon, dining services supervisor, at the end of the fall 2015 semester. She is retiring after nearly 21 years at JCCC.

Most employees don’t get a story written about them for their retirement. The cake and the party is optional (Nancy’s is Dec. 11), but a story? Of course, if you’ve ever met Nancy, you’d understand.

Culture of caring

“She is the best boss ever,” said Rebekah Robertts, an international student who works in the food court. “She’s not only your boss, she’s your friend.”

Robertts was born in Colombia and grew up in the Dominican Republic. In these countries, community and family are paramount, she said.

“When people ask you how you’re doing, they really mean it. They want to know. Not like here, where people say, ‘How are you?’ but they don’t really want to know how you are. Except Nancy. Nancy does want to know. She actually cares about you,” Rebekah said.

Nancy has been the supervisor and mother for a slew of international students. Since visa restrictions allow international students to work only on campus, a lot find employment in dining services.

“I didn’t want to work in the food court,” Monica said. When she arrived at JCCC in early 2014, she had her heart set on working as a student ambassador, but Nancy convinced her to apply for a cashier position. “Just try it for me,” Nancy told Monica.

“Until this day, I still work in the food court,” Monica said. “I don’t know any other place to work that is as warm, like a family.”

‘Let me give you a hug’

Monica even lived with Nancy for the first two months she was going to JCCC. Her friend, another international student, was already living with Nancy and her husband, but, according to Monica, “My friend said Nancy would be fine with it, and I could stay as long as I needed.”

Really? As long as she needed?

“My friend was right. When I arrived…Nancy got out of her chair and said, ‘Let me give you a hug,’” Sambuu said.

Photos, cake and 22 children

Monica would be the 20th international student to live with Nancy and her husband. Around their home are pictures everywhere – refrigerator, living room, bedroom – of the smiling faces of their “children.”

“Nancy once told me, ‘Genetically, I have two kids, but internationally, I have hundreds,’” Monica said.

Nancy brings a cake for every food court employee’s birthday, a tradition Monica and Rebekah said they appreciated. “As international students, we don’t have family to celebrate with. Nancy makes sure that there’s a celebration,” Rebekah said.

One night, at 9:30 p.m., Nancy was already in for the night when she remembered she had an employee birthday the next day. A check of the pantry revealed she had no cake-making supplies. “Why not just skip it this once,” her husband said as Monica listened in.

“Nancy said, ‘No, I can’t do that.’ So at 9:30 at night, she gets dressed and goes to the store,” Sambuu said.

Providing that ‘extra smile’

In 2012, JCCC student Laurie Conner was so struck by Nancy’s generosity of spirit that she nominated Nancy for Fox 4’s “Pay It Forward” promotion. Conner called her “a phenomenal woman.”

In the video, Conner said, “She provides that extra smile and love that each one of us needs every single day.”

JCCC President Joe Sopcich echoed the sentiment. "Nancy is the greatest. I've always admired how she manages the food court.  But most importantly, she really cares about her customers and the people who work with her.  They genuinely care for her as well. She is just a wonderful person, and I will miss her immeasurably,” he said. “Her leaving is a real loss. And she does the best Grace Slick impersonation ever!"

She sings, too

Oh, right. She’s also a singer who delighted the staff with her vocal talents at the last All-Staff Meeting. Read more about that career in The Campus Ledger article written about her retirement. (The Campus Ledger is a JCCC student-run news organization.)

Em Smail works with Whedon in the food court. She graduated from JCCC with a graphic design degree, but after a while at a desk job, she took a full-time job in JCCC dining services instead. Nancy Whedon was a big reason, she said. There’s a feeling of family within dining services, thanks in large part to Nancy. And everyone is in Nancy’s family.

“She knows everyone, from the president to the students to housekeeping, she knows them all,” Smail said. “We’re all going to miss her.”