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50-year Mt. Pleasant cafeteria worker dishes out homemade food, kindness

| Monday, March 20, 2017, 2:48 p.m.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Margaritte “Marge” Harenchar, known as 'the pizza lady', dabs away tears, as she celebrates 50 years as a cafeteria worker in the Mt. Pleasant school district, during a party for her, at Mt. Pleasant High School, in Mt. Pleasant, on Monday, March 20, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Margaritte “Marge” Harenchar,82, of Mt. Pleasant, known as 'the pizza lady', checks out a custom made ornament, during a celebration for her 50 years as a cafeteria worker in the Mt. Pleasant school district, during a party at Mt. Pleasant High School, in Mt. Pleasant, on Monday, March 20, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Margaritte “Marge” Harenchar (left), 82, of Mt. Pleasant, hugs former teacher Donna Sphon, as she celebrates 50 years as a cafeteria worker in the Mt. Pleasant school district, during a party at Mt. Pleasant High School, in Mt. Pleasant, on Monday, March 20, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Margaritte “Marge” Harenchar (left), 82, of Mt. Pleasant, hugs former teacher Donna Sphon, as she celebrates 50 years as a cafeteria worker in the Mt. Pleasant school district, during a party at Mt. Pleasant High School, in Mt. Pleasant, on Monday, March 20, 2017. On the back wall is a banner signed by all the students in the school. 'I really love the kids', said Harenchar when asked why she has worked for so long.

Most students at Mt. Pleasant Area Junior/Senior High School know Margaritte “Marge” Harenchar as the “Pizza Lady,” but they love her for more than her legendary homemade pizzas.

For 50 years, Harenchar has cooked up daily kindness that has earned her the affection of hundreds of students and teachers.

Many of them gathered Monday in the high school café to celebrate her 50th anniversary with the Mt. Pleasant Area School District, making her one of the longest-serving employees with the rural district.

“It's been a long ride. I love it,” she said.

Harenchar's co-workers gave her a surprise party complete with cake and gifts, many of them sporting black-and-white photo buttons of a much younger Harenchar. Large banners signed by students and faculty added to the festive atmosphere.

“When the kids were here, that was her focus,” said Sherry Kring, a health and physical education teacher.

“She made great pizza. I would bring her pizza home for my son, Lucas,” said former junior high reading teacher Donna Sphon of Greensburg, who retired in 2010 and brought a gift Monday.

Harenchar, 82, of Mt. Pleasant started working for the district in 1967, a year after the merger between Ramsay High School and Hurst High School. A 1953 Ramsay graduate, she worked for a time at Woolworth's in Mt. Pleasant before joining the new school district.

Although she has spent most of her career at the high school, she worked in food service at Ramsay, Norvelt and Rumbaugh elementary schools.

“This job came up, and I just took it,” she said.

Harenchar became known for the pizza she made and served at lunchtime. Her sauce, perfected in her home kitchen, kept the students coming back.

“I just kept playing around with it,” she said.

Other favorites include her potato pizza and fried dough, coworkers said.

“She makes everything from scratch, which is almost unheard of anymore,” Principal John Campbell said. “She'll even make special orders for students with special needs.”

Campbell said students “gravitate” toward Harenchar because of her “motherly and grandmotherly” qualities.

“I love her stuffed-crust pizza,” said her grandson, Paul Harenchar, 18, a senior at Mt. Pleasant.

Paul Harenchar is one of Harenchar's five grandchildren, and three children, who have attended Mt. Pleasant and sampled her pizza over the years.

“I'm not surprised she lasted this long. She's such a strong woman,” he said. “She's a remarkable person.”

Asked why she has stayed for 50 years, Harenchar had a simple answer: “The kids. I love the kids.”

When she lost a daughter unexpectedly eight years ago, it was the students at Mt. Pleasant who kept her going. “I don't know what I'd do without them,” she said.

Kring said Harenchar is about more than pizza. Her sense of humor, her support of school sports and her homemade decorations for graduating seniors have helped make her popular with students, she said.

“She's just a lovely lady. She's never cranky,” teacher Patty Smith said. “To work here for 50 years — God bless her soul.”

Harenchar said she has no immediate plans to retire.

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1280 or shuba@tribweb.com.

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