A Fresh Look at Shelia Newcomb

With an agenda beyond preparing lunches, Newcomb explains how she spreads joy

When asked what the key to a happy life is, Taher prep cook Shelia Newcomb will tell you it’s “to make the people that [you] work for happy, and [yourself].”

Working in the Upper School kitchen for over 5 years, Newcomb has done most every job, from dishwashing to cleaning to her current position as a prep cook.

“This is one of my major jobs right here, putting the salad bar together,” Newcomb says. “I make fresh food every day, fresh salad.”

Following Taher’s recipes, Newcomb has become attuned to the dietary needs of students and teachers. Student needs vary from peanut allergies to diets such as veganism to gluten free to lactose intolerant. It is important, she says, that the lunchroom reflects that.

Newcomb along with other prep cooks adapts the lunch menu with “different vegetables, different stuff. Whatever we find new that we think could help the kids and the staff here to be happy, we try it.” This is especially obvious in the salad bar and in the seasonal fruits and vegetable choices available during different months.

The Taher staff watch students, teachers, and faculty come and go; loading up on pizza slices, busing dishes, getting in line for snickerdoodles. Over time, though, differences become apparent. Newcomb says that the best part of her job is seeing the students go from timid ninth graders to slacking seniors. Having seen more than two whole grades go from ninth graders to graduating seniors, the view from the kitchen isn’t short of revealing surprises. On seeing students go through the Upper School, Newcomb says, “That’s exciting. They are stepping out into the world and doing big things. Half of them seem to step on by and see us, and that’s a good thing, to just know that they still care where they came from.”

Outside of her job, Newcomb loves to go out to eat and go bowling. With three children— including Jerome, who can be found alongside the rest of the Taher staff as a dishwasher—Shelia stays busy in the kitchen and out. Additionally, her son Dennis and daughter Kiana have worked in the lunchroom as dishwashers, but now work across town. Each of her kids have children, too. She says, “On the weekends we rotate, go out together, and have fun.”

At work, Newcomb enjoys bringing the enthusiasm from family time on days off to working with faculty, teachers, and students. She says, “I enjoy Blake: the school, the staff, the kids. My staff. I mean just the facility. It’s kinda an overwhelming job. I started as a temp and now I’m a regular, so it’s really an ongoing thing. I go from one step to another, you know?”

From the overcrowded second lunches to music-filled mornings in the kitchen, Newcomb has plenty of work to do. She says, “I work well with the school and the kids and the teachers.” It isn’t always so easy, though. For new students, Newcomb says lunch can be tricky. She says, “[Y]ou get freshmen and they’re new. You have to be patient. Helping all the kids out just to know that that’s the purpose of me wearing my name tag. You can identify me.”

Carter Puckett
Shelia Newcomb is well-known in the Blake Cafe asking students “One or two?” on pizza days.