- [S24] The Newport Plain Talk, (http://www.newportplaintalk.com), 22 Oct 2006.
What happened to the Waffle House waitresses?
(c)2006 NPT PHOTO BY DAVID POPIEL Jennifer Freeman has gone from taking orders for eggs and bacon at the Waffle House to answering your insurance questions at Farm Bureau Insurance.
By: David Popiel
Source: The Newport Plain Talk
The new moon arrived on time Saturday on the heels of hoary frost stirring appetites across the landscape in our hometown. Cold mornings cause me to think of pecan waffles. The tall yellow sign off Cosby Highway beckoned me to Waffle House. My brother-in-law Mark Sanders was anchoring one end of the counter. In a few minutes a fellow I haven't seen in many months sat down. Gene Branam works for Lodge Cast Iron in South Pittsburg. He has been with the company about seven years. I was surprised to hear that cast iron is making a cooking scene comeback. The atmosphere at Waffle House seems subdued now compared to the times that two of my friends were working there as waitresses. One of the last friends from the "old gang" still at Waffle House is Lisa Daniels. Perhaps you too wondered what happened to Patty Presnell and Jennifer Freeman. Well, I tracked them down recently to find out and here is what I learned. If you ordered your eggs over medium and bacon wiggly, then chances are that Jennifer got your order right. It reflected her 12 years experience and desire to please customers. You may know her face, but not much about her. I found out a lot of interesting things such as her family has been giving a lot of loving attention to Dad, Gary Freeman, who suffered a stroke about six months ago. Her Mom is the former Barbara Hunter, and they live at Hartford. Jennifer was 32 on Oct. 13, is the middle child, including, Nadine Hayes, the oldest-she works at Telamon near Bybee; and Crystal Huskey, the youngest and also a veteran of Waffle House. Crystal worked there 14 years and now is at Sun Loans. The three sisters were raised near what you Hartford folks will recognize as the old Rollins grocery. All the girls pitched in to help their parents when Gary spent 73 days in the hospital. Perhaps it was that period in her life she started thinking about a change-after all, she had spent 11 Christmases at work serving hot coffee and waffles. The money was good but her feet hurt from being on concrete so long so many years. She does miss her customers and many of them are glad to see her at her new job at Farm Bureau Insurance. Another recent change for Jennifer is she is now Mrs. Jim Dunkle. Jennifer and her son, Brandon Freeman, 14, are one family now after the Sept. 29 wedding. Jim is from Florida. Jennifer has been a customer of Farm Bureau, as I am and many of you are. So, she happened to be chatting with insurance business manager Tom Inman earlier in the year. By June she was hired and at work learning auto insurance quotes, taking applications, and working on the office computer. She traded her order book for a keyboard. Because of her years as a waitress she already knows many of the Farm Bureau customers who often ask for a hug. I'm sure you know many members of the Freeman family who excelled in farming, business, and leadership. Gary's brothers were the late Waldo and Jack Freeman. Gary helped them open the store off Wilton Springs highway and worked there until four years ago. He is about 69. Jennifer recalls she often helped out at Uncle Jack's tomato packinghouse in Denton-a place I've taken more than a few photos doing farm features. It wasn't an easy thing for Jennifer to do, to decide to leave a job she knew with the limited education she had. "It's hard to make up your mind-to say 'I'm leaving.' You don't know anything else and if you can find a job. It's scary." There didn't seem to be a time that Waffle House existed in Newport that a smiling, laughing waitress named Patty didn't work there. The reason is she was the second person hired when it was opening in 1987. She served me many crisp waffles. It was a chance to avoid the drive to Duff's in Gatlinburg and work closer to home. Her home for many years was Savannah, Georgia. And like my maternal grandparents, was born in Germany as Patty Herz. After leaving Waffle House she has launched a new career. It was wear-your-black-uniform day when I visited her at Doctors Foster & Steele, optometrists, in late Sept. What was her connection to Cocke County, this Frauline? Her Dad is Johnny Davis, of Newport. I was surprised to learn that Johnny is one of the seven Davis children of Donnie and Collis Davis. Perhaps you recall seeing the area they called home off Asheville Highway where the old barn carries the lettering: "Get Right With God." The family members I knew the best were the twins, O.V., who sold insurance, and L.V., who at one time operated Bryant Town Restaurant. Patty's mother was the late Margarete Davis. She and Johnny met in Germany and returned to the US, when Patty was about four months old. There are other children, too. Chris, Mark, and Michael Davis all live in Sevierville. While Patty was serving up hashbrowns and pig meat, her husband, Eddie, has been working at ConAgra. They are big NASCAR fans and rarely ever miss Bristol. You recall we recently chatted about the Presnells. Well, he is Haskell and Ruth Presnell's only son. He has sisters: Barbara Taylor, who works at Food City; and Trecia Wertz, a computer programmer in Atlanta. Patty's daughter, Amanda, is now 23 and works at Bath & Bodyworks in Sevierville. Although Patty attended Cocke County High School, she never graduated. Waffle House was a fine place to work because of the "good, fast money." She's never met a stranger and enjoys serving people. At 40, after her Mom died last year, she started picturing herself as a waitress at age 60. That's when she began thinking about a change. Dr. Kurt Steele gave her an idea and she got motivated to get her GED at the adult high school. Yes, she fondly remembers some of the regulars of the past such as J.M. Poe, Fred Clark, and J.C. Caldwell. But she went to work for Foster & Steele with a plan to be an optician. She will need to train about 5,250 hours with technician Emily Ellison in the optical area. The only regret Patty has is that she didn't start her new career sooner than last March. She is again comfortable with her new job, friendly co-workers, and, she still has a big smile for you. In plain talk with a little nudging and some more education you can do just about anything you want and let someone else pour the coffee,