By DAWNE LEIKER
With more than six decades cooking in local venues, Adeline Werth smiles when she remembers the hard work and satisfaction that went along with feeding thousands of hungry folks.
She retired only last year at age 91 from her 32 years of cooking at Fanchon Ballroom. Preparing mass quantities of food was a matter of course for her. In fact, in her last weekend of work, she fed more than 1,800 people during a Special Olympics meal and wedding dinner.
Relaxing last week in a rocker near a sunny window in her apartment at Cedar View Assisted Living, Werth reminisced about her years in food service.
She started her career in an unlikely way -- hanging wallpaper -- and got her first restaurant job after completing a wallpaper project in the Beer Garden, a former nightclub on East Eighth Street.
As she put on the finishing touches, her brother, Andy Befort, owner of the Beer Garden, told her his cook had quit and he needed her to help him prepare food.
"I said, 'I don't know anything about a kitchen,' " she said. "I was pretty young yet.
"And he said, 'Well, you come on in. ... I know a little about cooking, and with you I think we can make it.' "
That first job set an undeniable course for Werth.
"I never was out of that kitchen," she said.
After leaving the Beer Garden, Werth cooked two years at Nick's Cafe, near the old mill in downtown Hays. She then took a job at Garden Grill, across the street from the former Brunswick Hotel, staying there for five years.
In the early 1960s, Werth became a cook at Fort Hays State University's Memorial Union, remaining in the position for 25 years.
"I was there when President Kennedy got shot," she said.
Several Volga-German cooks brought their made-from-scratch cooking skills to FHSU in those days, many cooking there for more than a decade. Werth said she enjoyed working in the well-equipped kitchen.
But she later followed another path when offered a cooking job by Alfred Linenberger, owner of Fanchon Ballroom. She said she was surprised to see how large a venue she would be working in.
"I wasn't expecting to work in a place that big," she said. "It was a night club and a wedding place."
She found organization skills to be key to her success at the venue.
"You have to be on the ball," she said, laughing. "You have to have enough food.
"You have to be sure everything's on time, and it has to be good."
Werth has shared her cooking philosophy with those around her at her new residence. Director Treva Benoit said the cooks at Cedar View have adopted some of Werth's tried-and-true ideas.
One of Werth's central cooking principles stands out in Benoit's mind.
"She has told our staff that people eat with their eyes," Benoit said. "That when food looks good, it tastes good."