Every UM freshman who has eaten at the Stanford/Hecht Dining Hall over the last seven years knows Hazel Henderson.
The 61-year-old mother of four and grandmother of 14 has been serving food with a smile since 2002 and tries to make the freshman experience better for everyone who visits her station.
Henderson, dubbed “Hazel the Happy Sandwich Lady” by students, is so popular that a Facebook group in her honor currently has over 700 members. When Hazel was moved to the Juice Bar at the Wellness Center in the spring of 2006, the student outcry was so huge that she was eventually moved back to her old stomping ground.
“Deep in my heart I knew I was supposed to be here, and I prayed on it, and tell me prayer doesn’t change things,” Henderson said.
Junior John Helfand has lived in Hecht for two years and has had the good fortune of having Hazel make his sandwiches this entire time.
“It is just a pleasure to go in there and say hi to her and get a wonderful sandwich made,” Helfand said. “Hazel is always smiling, and she always makes everyone that talks to her smile. Even if you’re having a bad day, Hazel comes in there and cheers you up.”
Alumnus Billy Bludgus still has fond memories of Hazel.
“I graduated four years ago and I still remember Hazel making my turkey and provolone wrap with the biggest smile ever,” Bludgus said.
Hazel said the reason she is always smiling is because of some advice her grandmother once gave her.
“When I was a little girl, my grandmother said to me, ‘for every minute that you spend in sadness you lose 60 seconds of happiness.’ So I think I would rather have those 60 seconds of happiness,” Henderson said.
Even though countless students feel that Hazel is a part of their extended family, few students know Hazel’s entire story. Hazel was born and raised in Miami and attended Booker T. Washington High School. After high school, Hazel began working in the profession she had dreamed of.
“I always dreamed of being a secretary, and I took up office and I loved it,” she said.
Hazel worked as a secretary for 15 years before she began cooking at the University of Miami.
Hazel’s grandmother was the first person to teach Hazel how to cook. During summers, Hazel and her siblings were sent up to their grandmother’s house in Alabama, and it was there where Hazel learned “country-style cooking.”
On December 2, 2002, Hazel began working at the sandwich station at the Stanford/Hecht Dining Hall.
Mel Tenen, the assistant vice president of Auxiliary Services, recognizes Hazel’s impact at Chartwells.
“Hazel definitely makes a difference in every student’s life with whom she comes in contact with,” Tenen said. “With her warm and caring smile and manner, she shows genuine interest in each of our students ensuring that their experience at the University of Miami is special.”
One reason Hazel loves working in Stanford/Hecht is that she gets to work with freshmen.
“I call them newbies, the freshmen,” she said. “It’s their first time away from home so they get special care. I am glad I was put over here where they are because I am grandmotherly and they treat me like it.”
Sophomore Anna Feagan loves how motherly Hazel is and how she can cheer a student up no matter what.
“Hazel not only does her job efficiently, she does it with an enthusiasm that will put a smile on your face for the rest of the day,” Feagan said.
When Hazel is not spending her time making a difference in the lives of students, she spends her time volunteering at a local hospice. Hazel realizes that she is so loved on the UM campus, and it really touches her.
“I love them and they all say good things about me and it makes my job so well done. It makes me feel good when I go home, and I’m sure it shows,” Henderson said. “I finally have a job where I feel like I am wanted. I love my job and I love these kids ’cause they are my future.”