One of the longest-serving – and most well-known – staff members in the history of Mississippi College has celebrated a milestone few may ever approach.
Daisy Harrell – known to everyone as “Ms. Daisy” – started working at MC on Valentine’s Day, 1973. The personable cashier of the Caf has been a blessing to faculty, staff, students, and alumni at the Christian University ever since.
Her extraordinary half-century of service has earned her Mississippi College President Blake Thompson’s Most Valuable Person Award for March.
“We are grateful for you,” Thompson told her while presenting the award on March 10. “Fifty years of loving our students that come through here every day. We are thankful for it, and named you the MVP.”
The Clinton resident said she makes no secret about why she has remained on the Caf staff for so long.
“I just love working here,” Harrell said. “I love the kids, the MC employees. That’s why I’m still here. I’m not ready to go home yet.”
That’s great news to her supervisor, Mike Prince. The president of campus dining has counted on her throughout his 28 years of leadership at MC.
“She is the most-known staff member in the history of MC,” Prince said. “There are alumni who come back 20 or 30 years later and ask, ‘Is Ms. Daisy still here?’”
He said they’re delighted to find out she is – and Harrell is always happy to see them.
“I remember their faces when they come in,” she said. “It brightens my day to see them come back.”
An opening in the cafeteria dish room led to her remarkable association with her hometown university. Before her first week of work had ended, she had “graduated” to the Wigwam, MC’s snack shop at the time. A couple of weeks later, she was placed on the cafeteria serving line, and soon after that, she was promoted to catering – while also serving as a cashier.
“She’s a hard worker and did everything for us,” Prince said. “She’d cashier, then run upstairs (in the B.C. Rogers Student Center), cater, then run back down and cashier again.
“She’s been a motherly figure to many of the students over the years, especially those away from home for the first time. She’s got great wisdom. She’s got great faith. When I first got here, she was reading the Bible every day at the register.”
Her only concession to age: now Harrell cashiers full-time, which makes her accessible to the MC faculty, staff, and students she enjoys interacting with every day.
Kaitlin Turcotte, director of recruitment in the Office of Enrollment Services and a 2016 graduate of MC, describes Harrell as an “MC staple.”
“She’s one of the only faces on campus who spans generations of MC alumni,” said Turcotte, who nominated Harrell for the DBT’s MVP Award. “She demonstrates the loyalty to the institution and investment in students that we talk about when we describe how the people at MC set us apart from other universities.
“She also exhibits ‘tough love’ – she holds to principles and standards while still being personal and knowing the details of students’ lives.”
Julia Morse Ellis, a senior interdisciplinary studies major from Ruston, Louisiana, can attest to how well Harrell relates to students. While also nominating Harrell for the award, Ellis credited her with going “above and beyond” her job requirements to get to know MC students.
“When it was getting close to my wedding date, she always seemed so excited for me,” Ellis said, “and would say things like, ‘I want to see pictures of the wedding.’ She always wanted to hear more about it, which made me more excited and made me feel seen.
“After I got married, I came back to the Caf and showed her my pictures. She loved hearing about my wedding day. I appreciate how intentional Ms. Daisy was to engage in multiple conversations with me and to follow up on things we had talked about.”
Harrell has demonstrated her unwavering fondness for students during the rare occasions when snow flurries have blanketed the Clinton area. She has been known to walk to work through the snow drifts to make sure those stranded on campus have access to good meals.
“Three or four of us chose to walk to work, because it was important for us to serve these students,” Harrell said. “That’s how much I love working here and being with them.”
She’s seen plenty of changes during her five decades at MC. There is no longer a dish room, and renovations to the Caf have eliminated the serving line and the conveyor belt that carried used trays along the outside wall and into the back for cleaning.
What hasn’t changed in half a century, Harrell says, are the people.
“Not with me; they haven’t,” she said. “I love all of them. Everybody’s so sweet. Sometimes they may not have their ID on them. I tell them, you know, we have rules here. But I’ve never had a run-in with anyone.”
That’s the “tough love” that Turcotte referred to, but Prince said even that has mellowed over time.
“Back when we had punch cards, if you came into the Caf with no ID, it didn’t matter if lunch or dinner were closing in five minutes, you were going to sprint back to that dorm and do it the right way,” he said. “I always tell the young people on our staff, follow Ms. Daisy’s pattern.
“She never has a bad day; if she does, she hides it. She’s never late; she’s always on time. Sometimes you lead with words, and sometimes by example; she can do both.”
As the monthly DBT’s MVP recipient, Harrell received a T-shirt, a parking spot of her choosing for a month, a $50 gift card, and the right to display a bobblehead of Thompson with his famous golf cart.
Whenever someone reaches a service milestone, one question becomes inevitable: “When are you going to retire?” For someone who has made a significant impact on others, it becomes an almost daily inquiry. But Harrell said she’s not ready to entertain it yet.
“Almost every time someone who has graduated comes through here, they say, ‘Ms. Daisy, when are you going to retire? We want to have a retirement party for you.’ I say, ‘OK,’ but I’m not ready to leave right now.”
She’s hesitant to leave MC partly because of the people and partly because of her grandchildren. Her son and daughter have a combined eight children ranging in age from 1 to 22. While she enjoys spending time with them, “they’re a handful,” she said.
“I love my grandkids, but I’m not ready to see them every day,” she said. “That’s why I love coming to MC. I can spend time with my grandkids, and when I get tired, I can send them home.”