Lee Dell Fields is a soft-spoken lady who believes her job as a cafeteria worker at Dover Elementary School in North is about more than just preparing food. It’s about creating relationships.
The North resident is the mother of five children, grandmother of 11 and great-grandmother of two. She and her husband, Monroe Fields Sr., have been married 47 years.
It is the love and care demonstrated within her own family that she carries over into her interactions with children -- and staff -- at Dover Elementary School. Whether she’s busy tying shoes, buying extra milk or cheering up teary-eyed children on a bad day, Fields takes time to show she cares.
It is her genuineness and depth of feeling for others that has earned her recognition as the exemplification of sincerity as part of the Orangeburg County Community of Character initiative.
It’s an honor that caught her by surprise.
“I was excited because I was wondering what it was. Everybody who I talked to at school said, ‘I don’t know nothing about it.’ It really was a surprise,” Fields said.
What comes as no surprise is Fields’ care for the children she has served for the past 17 years, beginning at the former North Elementary School under the tutelage of late cafeteria supervisor Ida Mae Leysath.
“The main part I like about my job is cooking and taking care of the children. All the children call me grandma. I like that. It’s the way I treat them. I would say I’m a grandmother to just about all of them because all of them love Ms. Fields,” she said.
“I smile and talk to them. I speak and say, ‘Hey, how you doing today?’ If their shoes are untied, I say, ‘Come here and let me tie your shoe,’ or if they’re crying, I’ll say, ‘Why are you crying?’ I treat them just like I treat my own grands,” she said.
Some children may come to school wanting more milk than they can afford. She takes care of that, too.
“If some of the children want another milk, they have to pay for it. They don’t have the money and I’ll say, ‘Well, go ahead and get your milk. I’ll pay for it,’” she said.
She and her husband are the parents of Queenise, Delphine, Monroe Jr., Joseph and Verdell. She said she always had a caring, but disciplined hand, with them as well.
“Well, I tried to teach them the best things. I raised my children up in the church, and then they had to work. We would have a farm, plant gardens and went out and worked in the fields. Then when my children got old enough, they went out and got a little job like after school to try and help themselves,” Fields said.
Fields said her mother instilled in her and her eight siblings the value of treating other people with genuine kindness as they were growing up. The Swansea native is the daughter of the late Freddie Lee and Flossie Dunbar.
“While growing up, I would consider myself as a good person, kind and loving. I could say that really came from my mom and the way she taught me when I was home. She always would do her best toward me and my siblings, and I think I just fell in her footsteps in things like that,” Fields said.
“She was a good and very hard-working mother. We had to walk to church every Sunday. We were raised up in the church,” she said.
Fields said she genuinely enjoys being around children and is not contemplating retirement.
“I really do care for them. A lot of people ask, ‘You’re not ready to retire yet?’ It all depends on my health. I really don’t know, but I love my job and feeding the children. I love to cook,” Fields said. Apple crisps and cinnamon rolls are among the delectable treats she enjoys making for her little ones.
Fields said more love is needed in the schools.
“We need more love and caring in the schools, and I just love children. They don’t have to be mine. I just love them all,” she said.
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