BAR HARBOR — It’s not that Carl “Whitey” Griffin is fed up; it’s just that after feeding teenagers for 25 years, he’s decided it’s time to take life a little easier.
He will retire as food service director at Mount Desert Island High School at the end of the school year.
Griffin said last week that he is going to miss it.
“I love the job,” he said. “I like being around the kids, and all the staff is kind and friendly. It’s a great school, a nice place to work.
“We have a great administration here, and everybody tries to look out for everybody else.”
He said the job of feeding students has changed dramatically since he started in 1990, citing especially today’s strict federal nutrition requirements.
“It’s all been revamped compared to what we used to be able to serve,” he said. “The kids are eating healthier now. We have five different areas they can eat from. We have a salad bar every day with 20-or-so items. We have an alternate meal. We make sandwiches. Just about everything has to be whole grains.”
Still, offering students healthy choices is a lot like leading a horse to water.
“I think a lot of schools are struggling with the nutritional standards,” Griffin said. “I was reading the other day on the USDA web page where a school district in New York said they have the healthiest garbage cans around because the kids throw all this healthy food away.”
Griffin said the same might be said about MDI High.
“You can look in the garbage cans and see whole oranges and apples and different things like that.”
On the other hand, he said, many students do eat a lot of what they are offered. He said pasta is always a favorite. As is pizza, now made with a whole grain crust. And chicken burgers – with whole grain coating, of course.
The high school’s students eat lunch in three shifts.
“I’ll joke around with them when they’re coming through the line,” Griffin said. “And a lot of times, I’ll go out in the cafeteria and mingle with the kids while they’re eating.”
Asked if there are ever any food fights, he gave an unexpected answer: “We play a few jokes on each other here in the kitchen. We’ve hit people in the face with whipped cream. We don’t like to do it in front of the kids because if they see us doing it, that’s bad influence on them.”
School system Superintendent Howard Colter said Griffin has actually been a great influence.
“He has done so much for the high school over the years, not only running the kitchen, but helping kids and supporting their extra-curricular programs,” Colter said. “Whitey is always upbeat and friendly to everyone. I’ll miss him.”
So will Matt Haney, the sixth MDI High principal for whom Griffin has worked.
“Students and staff will miss his buoyant, affable personality,” Haney said. “He has given a lot to both the high school and the island community throughout his career.”
Julie Keblinsky, the school’s dean of curriculum, said she will miss Griffin’s standard response when asked how he’s doing.
“It’s never ‘fine’ or ‘OK,’” she said. “It’s always ‘top notch.’”
Griffin, who will turn 68 next month, was born and raised in Bar Harbor, and except for two years in the U.S. Army immediately after high school, has always lived here. He has run a couple of restaurants in town and was food service director at Sonogee Rehabilitation & Living Center for 13 years. He also served as a part-time Bar Harbor police officer for 23 years.
A little-known fact about Griffin is that his given name is Carl. He said that, because he was a “towhead” as a young boy, his friends started calling him Whitey, and it stuck.
“Even all my teachers called me ‘Whitey.’”