(Rachel Stone)

By Jessica Nicholson

When students come to college and experience life on their own, many often miss that sense of “home.” Moms and grandmas aren’t waiting in the dorms to greet students with freshly baked cookies and milk, or offer hugs and encouragement after failing a test. But, an Eastern dining services cashier is working to brighten up students’ days one “hey girlfriend” at a time. Kathy VanWinkle, or Ms. Kathy to many, is one of the first friendly faces to greet students when they walk into upstairs Powell. Her big smile and welcoming personality offers students a heaping scoop of “down home lovin” that’s always straight from the heart. Ms. Kathy, a Berea native, has been a cashier for EKU Dining Services for three years.

“I love my job,” Ms. Kathy said. “Everyone here is like family; it’s not just a job to me.”

With all of the hustle and bustle surrounding a typical day in the life of a college student, Ms. Kathy said one of her goals is to provide everyone encouragement and create a “home away from home” feeling to students.

“I see each person as their own individual,” Ms. Kathy said. “I know it’s hard for students to be away from their families, so I want them to feel welcomed and comfortable when they come up here to eat.”

She attributes her loving personality and welcoming demeanor among students to her family: her husband, Harold, two daughters, Tammy and Shannon and her three grandsons, Tyler, Cameron and Dakota. On her days off, she said she enjoys spending quality “Nana” time with her grandchildren and taking them swimming. To listen to Mrs. Kathy interact with students on an everyday basis, you are bound to hear “hey girlfriend” in her sweet southern twang at least once in a conversation.

“I can’t always remember everybody’s name, so I say ‘girlfriend’ to students as a term of endearment,” she said. “I think students really enjoy it and it makes them feel special.”

Tiffany Rudolph, a communications major from Louisville, said seeing Ms. Kathy is the highlight of her day.

“I love to go to Powell and be greeted by Ms. Kathy, her smile and kind words help brighten my day and make things not seem so bad,” Rudolph said.

A group of students decided to start a fan page for Ms. Kathy on Facebook a couple months ago. The group has more than 220 fans and members post on the wall their favorite conversations from Ms. Kathy. One of the most common posts tells about the “magic” of a Ms. Kathy hug. Jacob Hollon, one of the fans wrote, “I’ve gotten a hug from Miss Kathy! It made paying all this money for school more than worth it!”

Another student, Amanda Marie Pierce, wrote, “I just got a Miss Kathy hug. It was amazing.”

Ms. Kathy’s outgoing personality and friendship is not only enjoyed by students, but by co-workers as well. Lore Cox, EKU Dining Services supervisor, said she really enjoys working with Ms. Kathy.

“Ms. Kathy is so sweet, she really makes students feel comfortable and that’s [the way] (EKU Dining Services) wants everyone to feel when they come up here to eat,” Cox said.

Part of Dining Service’s mission in making students feel more comfortable has been the change of the menu and décor. She has also been a vegetarian for 32 years, and said she likes to visit the fresh salad bar and the new vegetarian station added in the redesign.

Ms. Kathy said she enjoys the upgrades, including the new jukebox added over the summer, just as much as the students.

“I always tell students ‘welcome to the club’ when they come up here because there’s always a new song playing on the jukebox,” Ms. Kathy said. “I just love it.”

To become a fan and join the Facebook group for Ms. Kathy, just search “Miss Kathy” in the people and pages sections.

Eastern employee, Kathy VanWinkle famously shares smiles in upstairs Powell. (Rachel Stone)