It is not unusual to catch Wendy Norton mid-hug, as she greets students entering Summerfields at lunch or dinner.
“I love hugs,” she said. “I love to give them, love to get them.”
During the eight and a half years that Norton has worked at the University, she has formed many close relationships with students. For some students, Norton, who works as a cashier at the dining hall, has provided more than just hugs and a warm smile.
In the past, Norton has driven students to the hospital when they needed to have medical tests. For a few years, Norton drove one girl to and from the horse stables between her lunch and dinner shifts at Summerfields.
“I think about when my kids go away to college,” Norton, who has three children, said. “I worry what it’s going to be like to be far away from home.”
Norton used to hold an annual end-of-the-year picnic at her house for students she knew well. After three years of holding the get-together, Norton felt overwhelmed by it.
“The last time I [had the party] we had a houseful of people,” she said. “I kind of stopped because I didn’t want to not invite anybody.”
After seeing students two times a day, five days a week, Norton has become familiar with Summerfields regulars. Students who already know Norton often introduce her to their friends, and sometimes students introduce themselves.
“Students will come up to me and say, ‘You know, I see you every day, but I don’t know your name,’” Norton said.
Students often reciprocate Norton’s warmth and compassion.
“The students keep me young and happy,” Norton said.
Students cheer Norton up when she is having a rough day. This past week, Norton’s basement flooded and students helped to raise her spirits.
“Students would come in and give me big smiles and big hugs,” she said. “They could tell I wasn’t having the best afternoon.”
Over the years, Norton has attended a cappella concerts, dance performances and sports events at the University.
“I love a cappella,” Norton said. “And I’ve had the Wesleyan Spirits come in [to Summerfields] on Valentine’s Day and sing me a song.”
Working at Summerfields late night is often an interesting experience for Norton. Since she knows many of the students well, it can be a strange experience to see them after a night of partying.
“They crack me up when they come in drunk,” Norton said. “Most of them are funny drunk, not belligerent, and that I can handle.”
Students who know Norton personally are often ashamed to interact with her in their intoxicated state.
“The students that I’m really close with, when they come in and they’ve been out drinking, they’ll be like, ‘Oh my God, Wendy, you can’t see me like this!’” she said with a laugh. “Just the other night, I had a student that I’m pretty close with come in and sit down and make someone else order for him. He kept on saying that he couldn’t look at me.”
Norton isn’t the only member of her family who likes her job. Her children often enjoy coming to work with her.
“My kids love coming here because everyone is so nice to them,” Norton said.
Norton has twin boys who are 14 years old and a 16-year old daughter. Her husband, Ken, to whom she has been married to for 20 years, is a landscaper.
In the past few years, the family has participated in many student and alumni film projects. A few years ago, Rob Belushi ’04 included Norton’s home and family in a movie he was filming.
Between work and her sons’ basketball games, Norton enjoys making scrapbooks and photo albums.
“I love pictures, taking pictures, collages and scrapbooking,” she said. “I have a photo album for each year of each child’s life with pictures and reminders of special events and moments.”
Norton loves her job, not only because she enjoys the personal connection with students, but also because of the food. Just like many students, Norton is a sucker for Summerfields’ infamous cookie pie.