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Princeton’s friendliest face: a Q&A with Mathey College’s ‘Ms. Heather’

<h6>Sydney Eck / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Sydney Eck / The Daily Princetonian

It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes several thousand employees to educate and care for Princeton undergraduate students once they begin their University careers. 

Heather Parker is one such employee. For nearly two decades, Parker has been greeting students and swiping their prox cards as they enter the Rocky-Mathey Dining Hall. During that time she has had a significant impact on the daily life of undergraduate students. We sat down with several students and with Parker herself for a Q&A about “Ms. Heather.”

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The conversations below were edited for length and clarity.

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Daily Princetonian: Will you talk a little bit about Ms. Heather from RoMa?

Olufisayo "Fisayo" Adeyina ’22: Heather is lovely, she is always welcoming when I come into the dining hall. One time sophomore year I ripped my shirt, and she sewed the button back on for me. That was really nice of her. 

Grace Morris ’24: She’s very sweet. When you walk in and swipe your card and she smiles at you, it’s a little burst of happiness to take you through your day even on a random Wednesday. It’s really special that she makes the effort to take care of the students.

Colby McArthur ’24: I don’t go to RoMa often but when I do, Heather makes my whole day. Sometimes when I’m deciding where to go, I’ll go to RoMa just because Heather and everyone at RoMa is so nice.

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Gabriela Veciana ’24: Heather and her needle point at RoMa are so lovely.

Alessandro Troncoso ’25: I appreciate how genuine she is, it makes me feel welcome at RoMa. 

Caio Costa ’22: She’s great! One particular day I was really down, and she noticed I wasn’t doing well and came and gave me a hug. It’s a small thing and pre-COVID so I doubt she remembers, but it was a real highlight during a bad time. 

Nina De Marcken ’24: I love Heather and will talk about my love for her all day. 

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The Daily Princetonian: What do you prefer people call you?

Heather Parker: I like when people call me Ms. Heather. When I was growing up, there were women that were part of the family, even though they weren’t related to us. We called them Aunt Mary and Aunt Mildred. And even though we weren’t related we wanted to give them that respect. And I think I’ve reached that age.

DP: When did you start working at the University?

HP: Officially I am a FSW (a Food Services Worker). I started card checking back in 2003. I started at about twenty hours a week and through the years worked my way up, now I’m thirty hours a week, and I’m hoping to be a forty hour employee. 

DP: Can you describe a day in your life?

HP: I think my days at Princeton are probably more exciting than my days not at Princeton at the moment because it’s cold and there’s not much to do outside. My alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m.

DP: That’s early.

HP: I don’t have a problem getting up at that hour anymore. When I was your age, if I had to be somewhere at 7 a.m., I was going to be late. But now I just come in in the morning, I help in the servery, then fill the napkin holders, then the day really starts when I open up that door and greet everyone that comes by.

DP: What about a not Princeton day?

HP: You may know that my favorite saying is a bad day fishing beats a good day at work. Sometimes I’ll go grocery shopping or do some housekeeping, nothing too exciting. My husband and I like to go camping when the weather allows for it. We’ve been to some state parks and there’s a place out in Pennsylvania called Knoebels, which is a family-run amusement park. I like getting all the joys of an amusement park without the expense of a great adventure. The rides aren’t very high, and the custard is delicious!

DP: What did you do before you came to Princeton?

HP: Well, I’ve pretty much always had counter jobs. I think that’s why I have a good time working at the door. I worked as a hotel clerk up at Newark Airport in the 80s, at the Holiday Inn. I also worked in Atlantic City at Bally’s Park Place. I like customer service, and I think I’m good at it at this point. I also used to do massage, but I got it in my head that when I reached a certain age I would stop massaging and increase my hours here, which is what I’m doing. 

DP: Do you live in the town of Princeton?

HP: I’ve always lived in Jersey all around the state. I’m a born and raised Jersey Girl. Hence my accent. I don’t live in Princeton now, but I did years ago with my husband. We lived in the area for maybe a year or so. But now we live in Pennsylvania.

DP: Where in Pennsylvania do you live?

HP: In Levittown. It’s a nice neighborhood. It reminds me of the neighborhoods I grew up in in the 70s. It’s a nice, easy home. Not too big. I know who my neighbors are but I don’t have to know their business. 

DP: What is one of your favorite parts about working in RoMa?

HP: The students. That’s my honest answer. You all keep me young. You know I’m certainly not hip, but I’m learning. My favorite part is just doing the job that I have, working with you guys: greeting people at the door. I wish everyone a good morning, and I try to make sure no one goes by without a hello. I don’t have much family that is local. But I always like to say you kids [Princeton students] are my kids. I dress up for the Halloween dinner which is always fun and you kids seem to like it. 

DP: What do you do for fun or to relax?

HP: I talked about the camping and most people I think know that I do needlepoint. But I think I’ve gotten a little old and a little boring. There are days when I am happy to go home, shut the door behind me, turn on the TV, and continue to sew. I used to host a “knit and stitch” where students could come sew and knit and crochet with me, but it’s been hard to get that together with COVID. 

I used to do a lot of walking and will when the weather gets warmer again. Walking down by the canal is always nice, but I have to be careful because if I go 45 minutes out, I have to go the 45 minutes back too. I also like to bake and I like to cook, so with my husband, and he will say “come sit down and relax.” But when I’m up and baking I am relaxing. 

DP: What is your favorite thing to cook or bake?

HP: My mother’s chocolate cake is the best cake ever. 

DP: What is your favorite needlepoint that you’ve done?

HP: I would have to say the flower map, because that was the first piece I had done in 40 years. I had learned how to do embroidery with my sister when I was little, maybe eight years old. She and I used to sit on Saturday mornings and do our embroideries watching old black and white movies. The flower map was a piece that I found in an old box of stuff I had from when I was a kid, and it had a few stitches in it. So I took out the stitches, got the colors I needed, and just started working on that. Although, I do like the other flower one that I have posted up on the door now. 

DP: You read a fair bit. What have you been reading lately?

HP: I like whodunnit books. The current author that I'm getting into reading is Carlene Thompson. And I usually if I find an author I like I will read all of their books. So I was a big fan of Mary Higgins Clark, and read those.

DP: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

HP: Come by my line and see me! I know Rocky and Mathey are far, but it’s worth the walk up here. I think our food is delicious and I think we have a great group of people here who are pretty friendly. One of the first times they did Hidden Chaplains, I think five people from this unit were nominated, and I think that says a lot about the people here. And it’s our pleasure being here for you kids. Just know that you're always welcome to come talk to me. And my hugs are free.

Sydney Eck is an associate Features editor and Prospect staff writer for The Daily Princetonian. She can be reached at seeck@princeton.edu. 

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