Louise Hodapp can tell you exactly how much she earned when she started working in the cafeteria at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato back in 1972.
"I made $1.88 per hour," Louise says.
"Now I make $1.89. I got a raise," she adds with a laugh.
That sense of humor is just part of what has endeared Louise to the staff and patients she has cared for during her nearly 50-year career. Over those decades, she's served up much more than breakfast or lunch. She's not a doctor or a nurse, but she's a healer just the same.
"Louise is always smiling and joking," says Chelsea Riley. "She enjoys making people happy."
Once upon a time, Riley was a high school student working for Louise. Today she's Louise's supervisor but continues to seek her out for guidance.
"The connections Louise makes with others is something so very few achieve," Riley says. "It's one of many reasons I look up to her."
When Matt Vitale started working at Mayo Clinic Health System, Louise was one of the first people to make him feel like he belonged.
"She made me feel so welcomed to this part of the community," Vitale, supervisor for security operations, says. "Getting to see and visit with 'Granny' is regularly the best part of my workday."
When Matt Vitale and his wife, Ashley, were expecting their first child, Louise surprised them with a handmade baby blanket. It's a gift she's given to countless other staff members over the years.
"I love making blankets for new babies," Louise says.
She delivered the Vitales' blanket shortly before Ashley delivered her daughter, Grace.
"She kept the blanket hidden under her register counter," Matt Vitale says of the surprise. "We use the blanket to line Grace's crib. Magically, she's been sleeping better and longer since we added it."
More than a few recipients have shed tears when handed one of Louise's creations, touched to be singled out by her kindness. That kind of feedback is a gift to Louise.
"I love giving people stuff," Louise says. "I'm never happier than when I'm giving."
Louise is a persistent ray of sunshine and role model of work ethic, but more important than either, she is a constant reminder of the impact we can have when we show care for one another.Ashley Vitale
That giving doesn't end with baby blankets. When there's a charity benefit, Louise gets busy sewing. Her specialty is making outfits for American Girl dolls. She's made and donated hundreds of them over the years.
When the cafeteria still accepted cash, Louise would keep a stash of bills and change in her pocket. If a customer came up short, she'd have them covered.
She's also given blankets to resident physicians who are finishing their training.
"They work so hard and spend so much time away from their families," Louise says. "It makes me feel good to give them something."
Louise caught the giving bug growing up. She was the third of eight children, raised by parents who believed in taking care of others.
"There was a single mom who lived down the street from us," Louise says. "Every Christmas, my dad would get the family a ham with all the fixings. He'd get them all new outfits and get toys for the kids. If there was money left over, then we got gifts."
Walk into the cafeteria any time of year and you'll know what season it is, thanks to Louise. She's responsible for the bunnies that arrive each Easter, the flowers that bloom each summer, and the snowmen that top the tables at Christmas. The decorations are all her own, stored in her attic until it's their season to shine.
"The cafeteria reflects on me," Louise says. "It's my home."
It's a home she's known from both sides. In addition to her time working at Mayo Clinic Health System, Louise spent many years visiting hospitals with a sick family member.
"When you've lived it, you understand what it's like," Louise says. That's part of why she works hard to make her corner of the hospital a place of comfort and community.
"Louise's care and commitment to getting to know the people who go through her cafeteria line makes the world seem just a little bit smaller, especially in light of the troubles that the guests or staff may have experienced at the hospital," says Ashley Vitale, mother of baby Grace and a physician assistant at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato. "Louise is a persistent ray of sunshine and role model of work ethic, but more important than either, she is a constant reminder of the impact we can have when we show care for one another."
Editor's note: Louise's 50th work anniversary is May 31. She turns 80 in November. Neither milestone means she's giving up her post. "I love my job, and I love people," Louise says. "Why would I stay home?" Her retirement date, she says, "is up to God."
Tags: Staff Stories