Kathy worked at Occidental College for 20 years. In that time, The Occidental’s staff estimated that Kathy made about 163,800 sandwiches. If the average sandwich height is 5 centimeters, 163,800 sandwiches stacked on top of each other would reach a height of 819,000 centimeters, or 8,190 meters.
Throughout her time at Occidental, Kathy Lauriha has seen over 12,000 students pass through the corridors of the Marketplace. Last year, Lauriha celebrated 20 years of employment at Occidental. The college sent out an official note Jan. 18 encouraging the community to write letters to Kathy before her official date of retirement, Jan. 31. Lauriha, who did not want a party, said she preferred a goodbye that would give her a chance to connect with students, past and present.
She admitted that although it is difficult to remember everyone’s name, she has been able to retrace her memories with the help of little details in the notes she receives.
“There was one girl who would always request lots and lots of balsamic vinegar on her bread. I would spread it on, and she would say ‘more, more.’ For someone who does not like balsamic vinegar much, I always wondered about her,” Lauriha said. “When I got the note that thanked me for accommodating her balsamic vinegar tastes, I remembered her right away.”
Another note came from an alumnus who graduated over five years ago. Lauriha said she remembered him vividly because he would order alone almost every day. She would ask him questions occasionally, but he never replied with more than a few words.
“The letter was short but I knew it took a lot for him to write it because he was really quiet and shy. Those two sentences had so much meaning in them for me,” Lauriha said.
At the heart of the Marketplace, literally, Lauriha is familiar to most students who frequent the sandwich bar. According to Runyon, Lauriha had a profound impact on the relationship between Campus Dining and students over the years. From providing love advice to reading Dr. Seuss’s “Oh, The Place’s You’ll Go” at the class of 2015’s commencement, Lauriha’s presence on campus will linger in the memories of alumni.
Judy Runyon,current director of operations for Hospitality Services, who considered Lauriha her workplace mother, was not surprised at the number of notes Lauriha received in such a short time.
“She shared some of those notes with me, and some of them make you want to cry. They really speak volumes to how much of an impact Kathy has had on students,” Runyon said. “They’re still remembering these memories of her five, 10, 15 years later.”
Lauriha, who was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1944, but moved to southern California when she was 2 years old, went to high school and college in Ontario, 30 miles from Los Angeles. She attended Chaffey College in the 1960s but decided to become a flight attendant after traveling with her mother and sister by air for the first time.
“At that time, there weren’t many career options for women. I didn’t want to be a nurse or teacher. I knew if I did, I would stay close to home,” Lauriha said. “The world was really small back then. I didn’t want to stay in town forever.”
Lauriha worked at Trans World Airlines (TWA) from 1964 to 1997, flying both domestically and internationally. She said it was a great job and allowed to her travel to places she had always wanted to visit and would not have had the chance to see otherwise, like Hawaii.
“It started to change a lot in the last years I worked, around 1997. They began cutting a lot of big routes, such as the one from Chicago to London. We would be stuck in cities overnight and had to find connecting routes to come back home,” Lauriha said.
When Lauriha left TWA in 1997, she decided to come back to Los Angeles. She found an ad in the newspaper for a dining staff job at Occidental College and decided to apply on a whim. Although she had never worked on a college campus before, Lauriha thought the job sounded like the closest match on land to her previous job as a flight attendant.
Runyon still remembers the day that Lauriha arrived on campus. Lauriha was assigned to work at the faculty club, a lunch spot for campus staff that was located in Collins Admissions House while the Marketplace was under construction.
“I could tell right away that Kathy was very customer service-oriented and a people person. She connected with all the professors and admin right away,” Runyon said.
According to Runyon, Lauriha’s interest in others is not only a reflection of her years as a flight attendant but a reflection of her genuine, kind and motherly nature.
“I try and talk to all the students. Especially when I can tell when they are down. And I can always tell,” Lauriha said. “It’s really evident around mid-term exams and final exams. I always say, ‘they wouldn’t let you into the college if you weren’t qualified enough or they thought you would fail’. But sometimes you just need to hear some encouragement.”
Lauriha said that without a doubt, she will miss her interactions with students the most once she retires.
“That’s what I liked most about this job, talking to the students. They are the best part,” Lauriha said.
Lauriha, who became embedded in the daily routine of hundreds of students, went the extra mile to share laughs, inside jokes and advice with the students she saw frequently. For Maria Salter* (sophomore) and Joey Sortino (sophomore), interactions with Lauriha sparked a story of its own between them.
“Kathy always saw us getting food together and she eventually started talking to both of us individually about how great the other was and how beautiful she thought we would be together,” Sortino said. “Even though we were both in separate relationships, she was so precious and we loved her so much that when she talked to one of us about the other, we kept her dream alive.”
Claudia Lechner (junior) attributes her positive experience with Lauriha back to when she was a first year. Lechner said she felt lost and nervous walking into the Marketplace but felt instantly welcomed by Lauriha and her kind words.
“I don’t think she ever really knew, after stressful weeks and moments where I felt so overwhelmed, how much she would manage to change my mood, making me happy and carefree. She was like a breath of fresh air, a ray of sunlight in the dark,” Lechner said.
Now that she has retired from Occidental, Lauriha said she hopes to spend her time reading and with her friends and cats.
“I traveled so much when I was younger, so I won’t be doing that,” Lauriha said. “It’s nice that all of my friends are retired, so now I will have time to join them during the day.”
Lauriha said she is not expecting to come back after Jan. 31 and is giving her final goodbyes. Runyon said otherwise.
“She’s come by a couple times and then she’ll say, ‘oh I’ll pick up the rest later.’ I think she’s looking for a reason to come back,” Runyon said. “It’s so normal for her to be here, she’s a part of the family.”