Harris Returns More Than Petty Cafe Change
It’s 8 p.m. on a weekday night in mid-February. A newbie cashier with short blonde hair smiles from her seat at the Dascomb dinner check-out line.
“You girls are coming from practice?” she asks.
I’ve entered the dining room with a pack of lacrosse-playing wolves, wildly hungry after two hours of running. We approach the woman apprehensively as the servers load salad fixings and partially-eaten pies onto rolling carts in the background.
“Go ahead!” she says. “We need to get you fed!”
Though she may not be Dascomb’s first employee to let in late arrivals, Linda Harris has unique charisma. Students flock to Dascomb from all over campus to get panini-grilled sandwiches and a smile from Harris, who works there for dinners Monday through Friday to distribute her signature grin with an individualized “How are ya?”
Being friendly is easy for this 51-year-old woman: “I’m one that has a really hard time frowning,” she said. “My face just doesn’t go that way.”
Not that she never has had reason to frown. Harris is also an administrative assistant at the deputy clerk’s office in the Oberlin Municipal Court, where her responsibilities are many and varied. In conjunction with the prosecuting attorneys, she organizes trials and retrials. She also handles automotive tickets, citations and phone calls, among other things. It is there that she doesn’t always get the respect she deserves.
“Because of my lack of education, I’m not paid as high as some of the workers there [that have degrees],” she said.
Harris dropped out of Bowling Green University after a year of studies. She has acquired her skills through years of experience.
“I’ve always thought, ‘You know, I’m not going to dwell over that. I’ll just work that much harder to prove something,’” she said.
On an average day, she works at the deputy clerk’s office from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. She returns home to take her dogs for a quick walk, and then drives to Dascomb to work the 5-9 p.m. shift. Harris also coaches volleyball on the weeknights, upping her total number of work hours to over 60 per week. She says many of her friends will be retiring this year, whereas she feels as if she is just beginning.
Harris forewent earning a college degree and spent a part of her young working life as a stay-at-home mom — two life decisions that she says have recently made life more difficult.
She was married for 20 years until 1996, when she and her husband went through a “stressful” divorce. Now she is working double-time to pay for expenditures such as the upkeep of her family’s 50-acre farm in Pittsfield Township and her daughters’ college educations.
Still, Harris has no regrets. Though her current workload is hefty, she has her daughters to help her get through it.
Harris’s daughter Chrissy attends Kent State University. Her younger daughter Ashley — a senior at Elyria High — will attend Walsh University next year on a volleyball scholarship.
Volleyball is a large part of her family members’ lives. In the past, Harris has organized a youth volleyball developmental program for local children and adults and she now runs volleyball clinics and open gym sessions through Elyria Parks and Recreation on weekends with the assistance of both her daughters.
When Harris attended high school in the early 1970s, she also played tennis for two years on the women’s team and one year on the men’s team, until the changing set of rules for female athletes disqualified her from participation.
“At that time, girls were just stepping into some of the predominant boys’ sports,” she said.
These days, she and her daughters enjoy playing sports of all varieties: they frequent the tennis courts and often pull out the monster badminton rackets for giant-sized versions of the classic game.
Still, free time has been a rarity; Harris had to give up her job as a youth volleyball official because it conflicted with her Dascomb job.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m always going,” she said.
Though the days are long, Harris loves her Dascomb job. She said that she feels more herself in this socially upbeat environment than behind her desk at the deputy clerk’s office. And she especially loves the students, who constantly remind her of her own daughters. When they come by her upset or in tears, she thinks of her family.
“I would hope there’d be someone there like me to take them under their wing,” she said.
No matter the environment, Harris’s workplace connections are always strong. She still keeps in contact with the older women she worked with in her days working in the dining hall at Bowling Green.
“It was important for me to have a mother figure to turn to,” she said.
Overall, Harris is most grateful for what the students have given her. Throughout her years of service, students have been supportive and friendly.
“I think that I’m here for a reason,” she said. “Maybe it was for the students. Or maybe it was for me.”