Why Crozet: Local People Work Hard at Jobs They Love

Millie Coffey at Murray Elementary. Photo: Lisa Martin.

Why Crozet is a long-running feature of the Crozet Gazette, focusing on the benefits of living in Crozet and nearby Albemarle and Nelson Counties. As a tribute to those Labor Day was meant to honor, the staff of the Gazette collaborated on the stories of a handful of dedicated workers. We didn’t pick people who lead corporations, or embark on dangerous missions. They get plenty of attention. Neither do our handful of workers inhabit a cubicle or sit at a computer, which for many of us is the stereotype of today’s work force. Rick Maupin drives a school bus, Mike Coffey a tanker truck. Cathy Wilson pitches in at a variety of jobs at a supermarket, and Millie Coffey is a cafeteria worker. We are grateful to them and to all those we see every day and may sometimes fail to appreciate. 

Miss Millie Minds the Till

By Lisa Martin

Mildred Coffey is a cafeteria worker who has been helping school kids with their lunchtime meals at Murray Elementary School since 2000. Before that, she worked at the Morton/ConAgra plant in Crozet until it closed. 

“They were closing the plant, and my daughter was working part time [for the schools] and she suggested I should apply for one the cafeteria jobs,” said Coffey. “I said I’d give it a try. For a month I worked at both—I was at the plant at night, and worked here [at Murray] in the daytime, so I wouldn’t lose my vacation pay. I’d get off from here at 2 p.m., start over there at 3:30 or 4 p.m., go home, come back. But this cafeteria work was something I really wanted to do. I didn’t want to go back to a factory.”

The elementary school environment was pretty much the opposite of factory work. “It was something I had to get used to, but I love working with the kids. I love it,” said Coffey. “Sometimes I help them in the line but most times I’m on the register.” The students call her Miss Millie, and she likes to spoil them a bit, doling out a little extra helping of something they like. She loves to see former students as they grow up.

“They come in to start kindergarten, and if you’re here long enough, you can watch them go all the way through fifth grade,” said Coffey, “but then they go on to middle school. I like to run into some of them [in town], or they might come back by the school—I remember a lot of them.”

Coffey comes in at 7:30 a.m., helping to set up and then manning the register through three lunch periods until she leaves at 1:30 p.m. She and her coworker, the cook, handle the whole operation, and Coffey lends a hand with the oven when needed. Most days are loud with the happy chattering of the students, but Wednesdays and Fridays are especially so. “We serve ice cream every Wednesday and pizza every Friday, and they get pretty excited,” she said.

She especially likes taking care of the new kindergarteners. “Some of them do look like they’re kind of nervous—and we would be too, wouldn’t we?—what with new people all around and being away from home,” said Coffey. “That makes it difficult for the little ones. Sometimes they come up and don’t know their [account] number, and they get nervous then, but we look it up for them and we get to know their names that way, too.”

When schools were closed during the pandemic, Coffey worked at Western Albemarle High School packing up lunches that were sent on buses out to local neighborhoods. “I would go out front and wait until the buses came for pickup, and lots of people came in cars too. It was good for something to do. Kept me out of trouble.” She thinks she’ll keep working for a few more years. “Got to keep those office people straight,” she said with a laugh. 

Rick Maupin covers 80 miles a day as a school bus driver. Photo: Clover Carroll.

Rick Maupin Wants to Be the Best Driver Possible

By Clover Carroll

After retiring from his 25-year career as a budget analyst with Facilities Management at the University of Virginia, long-time Crozet resident Rick Maupin heard about the bus driver shortage in Albemarle County, and remembered how much he had enjoyed this job during college. So, he trained to become a school bus driver with Albemarle County Public Schools.

Now in his third year of driving students to Ivy Elementary (formerly Meriwether Lewis), Henley Middle School, and Western Albemarle High School, he drives approximately 80 miles each day, including a second run in the afternoon. “The best part of being a bus driver is the students and the relationships you build with their families. I like to hear what they say is going on at the schools and in their lives. I enjoy my colleagues at Ivy School and mostly everyone in the western feeder pattern,” he said. He also appreciates the health insurance benefits.

First thing every morning, Maupin conducts a detailed inspection of both the outside and inside of the bus, including under the hood, the air brake system, lights, dashboard, doors, and other accessories to confirm that everything is working properly.

If anything is amiss, he uses the two-way CB radio he’s been provided to contact the shop behind Albemarle High School. “The shop is fantastic. They will talk me through how to fix whatever is wrong, or if it’s serious (like brakes), they will come out here.” At 6:25 a.m., Maupin proceeds to drive his assigned route to pick up children and young adults on a timed schedule. “This can be a challenge when we encounter traffic, construction work zones, and animals along the way,” he said. “We drive vehicles that are ovens in the summer and ice boxes in the winter. Although most buses have air conditioning and heaters, please remember that the space being cooled or heated is large and a door is being opened and closed on a regular basis.” But Maupin clearly loves the job. “Greeting and seeing their faces and interaction with other students reminds you of why you drive the bus.”

The drawbacks to his job are the layers of management in the school transportation system and the different procedures and protocols at each school. “Nothing appears to be handled in a consistent manner on an everyday basis,” he explained. “Very few people acknowledge your actions or thank you for doing an extra run for 180 days in a school year. A simple thank you or pat on the back can go a long way.” When asked why he thinks schools are having such a hard time finding drivers, he explained, “It is not an easy job, even though some may think it is. Rigorous training and testing from both the DMV and Albemarle County are required. The division might think about providing different or modified schedules to attract potential drivers. Also, they should teach all management to listen before they criticize, and to respect good drivers who they know are doing a good job every day.

“I try to start each morning with the mindset of being the best bus driver I can, with the realization that I can always do better. Personally, I tell anyone who asks that I have great students who make my job much easier.”

Veteran driver Mike Coffey at his home in Love. Photo: Lynn Coffey.

Mike Coffey: A Third-Generation Trucker

By Lynn Coffey

Like his father before him, and his grandfather before that, Mike Coffey eased his way into the trucking business at a young age. He remembers standing on the truck seat next to his dad with his arm around his neck at four years of age, before he even started school.

Mike’s grandfather, Forest Coffey, started out with a dump truck, hauling sand and gravel from the S. L. Williamson quarry in Shadwell to their asphalt plant in Charlottesville. Later in life he had a large truck and became a crew boss, picking up workers and transporting them to the various orchards to pick apples and then bringing them home at the end of each day.

Early on, Mike’s father, Richard, worked with his dad, but later moved to Reedsville, North Carolina, to do transmission work. Around 1965, he moved back home and bought a Chevrolet single-axle dump truck and began working for the same company as his father. By the late 1970s Richard had started his own business with seven tractor trailers and twelve dump trucks, continuing to haul for S. L. Williamson and hiring men to drive for Coffey Trucking Company.

Mike said, “I graduated from Stuarts Draft High School on June 12, 1982, and dad bought me a GMC tandem dump truck on June 22, so I had ten days off before I started working full-time!” Like the two generations before him, Mike continued to haul for the Williamson company. 

Mike Coffey’s 1998 Kenworth truck.

In April of 1987 he married Kim McGann, his sweet wife of 36 years, who began marriage as a trucker’s wife and still carries that title today. Mike stayed under the umbrella of his dad’s company until Richard retired in the late 1990s and then he took over the family company, still hauling for S. L. Williamson. Four years ago, he sold his 1998 Kenworth tractor dump trailer after deciding to change lanes and go to work for Allied Cement in Waynesboro, driving one of their tanker trucks to Maryland and back each day. But Coffey Trucking continues to hold the trucking contract at S. L. Williamson Company.

A typical day for Mike actually starts the night before, when he leaves his home in Love around eleven p.m. and drives to the Allied plant in Waynesboro to pick up his empty truck before heading for one of three cement plants located at Hagerstown or Union Bridge, Maryland, or Martinsburg, West Virginia. Once there he picks up a load of powdered cement and brings it back to one of Allied’s other plants in Harrisonburg, Staunton, or Waynesboro, where it is blown into a silo through a five-inch hose. Some days after he makes a run, he will turn around and drive back for another. On those days he is usually back home by twelve o’clock but if he makes only a one-time run, he’s home by eight that morning. We have learned not to call him after six p.m. because by then he’s catching some zzzz’s before his eleven o’clock run. 

Kim gets up with her husband and makes him lunch for the following day and then heads back to bed for a few hours before leaving for her bookkeeping job at Stuarts Draft High School.

When asked how the trucking industry has changed since he began driving in the early 1980s, Mike said, “It used to be if you had a breakdown or a flat tire, it wouldn’t be fifteen minutes before someone would stop to help you. Now they won’t even move over if you’re working on the side of the road… they just brush on by. The change is in the people, not the business itself. People are too busy and thinking only of themselves. They just don’t care.”

Even with all the new regulations imposed on the trucking industry and people’s lack of consideration for others, Mike still enjoys what he does and estimates he has driven over eight million road miles since he started in 1982. As our talk wound down, I asked if there was one thing he would change if he could and he replied, “I’d just like to see it go back to what it used to be.”

Cathy Wilson commutes to her job at Harris Teeter in Charlottesville. Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

Every Day is Different for Cathy Wilson

By Theresa Curry

Most weekdays, Cathy Wilson leaves her home in Old Trail for her job in Charlottesville at the Harris Teeter grocery store there. Wilson is a wine consultant, but that doesn’t fully describe her position, which includes just about anything that’s needed during her afternoon and evening shifts. 

Wilson is just as likely to be cleaning the wine and beer coolers as she is to be dealing with the eight wine and three beer representatives who visit on different days of her work week. She also manages the bar that’s adjacent to the more than 10,000 bottles of wine and hundreds of cases of beer in the store on any day. The wine and beer she serves at the bar are either samples given her from the vendors, or chosen by Harris Teeter’s corporate office for that week’s pours. 

Fraternities, UVA alumni, parents of new freshman, graduate students from Darden or the law school have all discovered that the bar tucked away at the left end of the store is a good place to have a glass of beer or wine without some of the complications that come with bellying up to a conventional bar. She’s met a couple of authors, an Antarctic explorer, and descendants of well-known Virginia families as well as family members marking time while another is shopping. Those on their lunch break might come to the quiet area to eat the ready-made hot or deli lunches served from other departments in the store.

She’s seen some aggression in her area, she said, but not from unruly patrons. “Sometimes the wine vendors will push other wines away from a designated spot so theirs are more visible,” she said. “Of course, I don’t allow this.”

But most of the time, it’s peaceful. When it gets too peaceful, she checks on what’s needed in other parts of the store. “I hate to be bored,” she said. One of the attractions of her job is the variety. By helping out in different departments, she knows what goes on behind the scenes. For instance, when the baristas take a break for lunch (the store has a Starbucks), she might be asked to head that way while they’re gone. She hasn’t been trained in lattes, pour-overs, or cappuccinos, but the staff has found a way to placate sleepy shoppers in search of caffeine. Before they leave, the baristas make a big pot of fresh coffee, and Wilson will dispense it free to disappointed customers. “They love that,” she said. 

Several times a day, she’ll help out at the self-checkout. The bank of computerized stations seems pretty routine to us, but employees in the know will tell you that it can be a hotbed of potential criminal activity. Store managers have seen it all: folks who use a stolen or expired credit card, knowing they’ll be out the door before anyone realizes it; counterfeiters who might pay with a large bill and leave quickly; petty thieves who have a number of clever moves designed to fool the machine as well as the staff member assigned to monitor the area.

Check-out clerks work hard, Wilson said, as do the people in the frozen food, meat, and produce departments. “Really, all of us work hard,” she said. The need for speed and accompanying stress is most visible among the personal shoppers charged with rushing the bags full of groceries to the pick-up area. “Parts of the order might be in the freezer, the cooler, or yet to be grabbed from the hot food service,” she said. “They only have two minutes to collect everything and get it to the waiting car.” During Covid she noted that some families might have four or five cases of soft drinks, a heavy load for one clerk to manage in the allotted time.

Wilson likes the fact that everyone works together, and she’s been recognized as a team player. She’s driven stranded co-workers home, going to Ruckersville or Montpelier late at night. She’s delivered groceries to a customer’s door to help out a personal shopper who’d forgotten to load one of the bags. 

Wilson began with the grocery store chain years ago when she was a graduate student and became aware that the company helped employees pay for their education. She’s gone back to it in retirement to supplement her social security benefits. “For the most part, it’s fun for me,” she said. 


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