Staff feature: the Diner’s Velma Gills (Momma)
Most students know of “Momma” or Velma Gills. Everyone who eats lunch or dinner has heard her laughter from her place serving lunch and dinner at the Chef’s Table.
The most interesting part of her job, Gills said, is “you guys, I love the students, you guys make it interesting, I love you guys. The staff, staff is great, plus the food is good!”
Gills began working at Puget Sound in February of 1992, 21 years ago. Back then, however, she didn’t go by ‘Momma;’ she was still called Velma.
“[That nickname was] started by my co-workers, then the kids heard it and it spread, and I’m Momma from that day on,” Gills said.
She came to Tacoma many years ago from Indiana, and has a lot to say about Tacoma.
“It rains too doggone much. It rains so much! I’m a three-seasons person, here they only have rain. Then I found out that all that rain in the spring and summer, it brings beauty. [And people here] they don’t know how to drive in the snow. I’m from Indiana, we get snow here—they drive too fast…they just don’t know how to handle it.”
Gills moved around a lot when she was younger.
“I’ve been all over—England and stuff,” she said. “[But I was born] in Forest City, Arkansas. Deep South, love it. My father was WWII army, we moved a lot. That’s what you have to get used to with an army family. [We stayed the longest] in South Indiana, [for about] seventeen years. That’s the place I call home, I graduated high school and went straight to work for Notre Dame.”
Gills has one hobby that she loves more than anything else.
“Been a singer most of my life, a choir director [as well]. I just love singing. My main one is gospel, I love church. I love helping people [too, as well as] service work [because] I’m a people’s person. Absolutely, I’m all about customer service, the Salvation Army—anything to help the poor, I’m there,” she said.
“[Did you know] one day I thought I was gonna make a record. I believe one day I will, don’t know when. [But] I’m gonna get that record. That’s my goal I’m working on now is getting a gospel record out.”
When asked about the new expansion of the S.U.B., Gills was thrilled.
“The expansion is the greatest thing ever. We are so ecstatic for us and for you guys.”
When asked to elaborate on what the expansion means, Gills said, “More sitting room on the upper level—larger serving area, more soda stations but the selections are going to remain the same. You guys are gonna be blessed, you’ll be ecstatic!”
When asked why the selections were not going to get bigger, she said, “Our main goal is to satisfy everybody, especially those with special needs. We’re working so very hard; we always ask ourselves how can we better serve people with special needs. There’s a board over by the milk, we leave that there for you guys [because] this is your school. If you have an idea write it on the board. If it makes sense we’ll try to do it. We can’t do everything; we want it to be logical and reasonable. We wanna keep it in the budget too, price-wise we try to keep with the budget. We try to keep our ears open. We listen.”
When asked what her favorite food from the S.U.B. was, “I can’t pick a favorite,” she laughed. “I know I should but I can’t. I love most of this food. I’ve been through a lot of colleges but here and Notre Dame, really good.”
At the end of the interview Gills said, “When parents come around I tell them that I treat their kids like they my own children.”
For the students she said, “Remember, you can always come talk to me for anything, I’m not a professional, I can point you in the right direction if you’re feeling sad. If you need a hug, to talk, Momma’s here for you. You don’t have to worry because Momma’s here.”