Trudy Bizarri is familiar with the chimes of clanging silverware filling the 6 p.m. dinner rush. From behind her desk she sees familiar faces file in through the purple-trimmed doors, and sees their faces one more time as she runs their ID’s through the scanner.
Sometimes the flow of traffic is interrupted by Bizarri and a familiar face who’ve begun a conversation. Sometimes a familiar face will pull up a chair and join her on the other side.
For Bizarri, many of these faces feel like family.
“I call her my grandma away from home,” said sophomore Myesha Jackson, who first met Bizarri when she started working in the caf last year. “She always checks up on me to make sure I’m okay, like a grandma would.”
For the past 12 years Bizarri has facilitated trips to Wal-Mart, celebrated birthdays, shared meals, listened to the daily gossip and kept in touch with countless students.
A few weeks ago Jackson, Bizarri and sophomore Jasmine Littrice went to get their nails done.
“I don’t usually wear something light like that, but they picked the color out,” Bizarri said, examining her manicure. “Pink for spring.”
While many are prepared to retire at 65, Bizarri isn’t.
Bizarri was 15 when she received her work permit and began working summers in the Hard Knox Cafe; it’s unsurprising she’s developed an attachment to the place. Having worked alongside both her mother Laura Brush and sister Sharon Brown (each employed by the college for 20 years respectively), the caf has functioned as a second home.
“When you work with a kid every night for two hours É you get close to them,” Bizarri said.
From preparing food in the kitchen, to working the line, supervising and now checking ID’s part-time — Bizarri knows her students.
Tiffany Bradley ’08 remembers dancing with Bizarri as the two would wipe down tables after dinner, bonding over shared laughter and lines of advice.
Originally employed to clean tables in the Oak Room, Bradley moved to the caf to be closer to Bizzari.
She was smitten by the spring of her freshman year.
“I don’t think I would’ve made it through Knox if it wasn’t for her,” she said. “She took care of me the best she could.”
Bradley recalled being strapped for cash after paying a cell phone bill and how Bizarri gave her the $20 she needed to go on a school-sponsored trip.
Now in medical school at Wright State University, Bradley remembers her support.
“This is bringing tears to my eyes,” she said, voice wavering on the phone. “You miss people. I haven’t seen her since I graduated.”
Eight years later, the two still communicate over Facebook. They hope to reunite once Bradley’s out of school.
“I keep in touch with them É because I really like ‘em,” Bizarri said.
If and when Bizarri retires fully, Jackson is confident they’ll stay connected.
After a freshman year full of trips to and from her Chicago home, Jackson has spent the majority of the year on campus — frequently spending evenings beside Bizarri in the caf. She waits until her shift is over.
She believes she would’ve transferred if she hadn’t met Bizarri.
“It wouldn’t feel right without seeing her face,” she said.
Although Bizarri looks forward to the new faces that come with each new class, saying goodbye has never been easy.
“It’s almost like losing one of your own kids,” she said. “Especially the ones you’ve worked with for four years.”
Of the countless nights Bradley spent closing up the caf, she remembers one distinctly.
“You know I really love you,” Bizarri said, interrupting the nightly routine.
“I love you too, Trudy,” she said.
No more words were needed as the two went back to wiping tables, preparing for another day.