Mar 30, 2010

12,000 kids and counting

by Amanda Magee

When students go to the Reber-Thomas Dining Hall, there is usually just one thing on their mind — food. For many students who regularly go to the dining hall for lunch they look forward to hearing the Bible verse and joke of the day from cleaning lady Esther.

If you take a trip to the dining hall at Liberty any weekday and turn to the right, you will see a group of students laughing, smiling and engaging in lively conversation with a petite woman with short, silver, curly hair and glasses. She washes the tables and pushes a cleaning cart with a bright smile, and after talking with Esther, students leave with her contagious attitude.

“She is just smiley, cheerful and makes us glad to be there,” junior Angela Dion said.

“Esther knows almost everybody and even if she doesn’t know them she will say hi and smile anyways,” sophomore Dan Bridges said.

At one time almost every student at Liberty knew Esther, before the dining hall was divided into brightly colored sections. Back then, Esther used to see almost all the students that came to the dining hall, but now only students that make a habit of sitting in her section or know someone that knows Esther have the pleasure of fellowshipping with her during the lunch hours.

A student might see her cleaning cart with a manila folder securely taped to both sides with an encouraging verse and strike up a conversation with her, or she will just start talking. Esther admits that she can talk to just about everyone.

“You know me … It just simply amazes me I can go from table to table and find something to talk about,” Esther said.
When asked about her favorite part of working at the dining hall, her answer would not surprise anyone who knows her.
“The students,” she said.

The students love her, too. Students may have to wait a few minutes to talk to her because other students are chatting away with her. Conversing and serving students at Liberty for almost eight years, Esther has become famous, and for some, a part of the Liberty experience.

“She is the kind of lady you remember for the rest of your life and want to tell your kids about,” junior Peter Battaglia said.

Since her first week almost eight years ago, she still posts a new verse on the manila folder daily. She usually has a joke or two to share as well. She laughingly admitted most of her jokes come from the many Readers Digests she collected over the years, or from clean joke books she has picked up at the library.

Sometimes the verse on her cart changes to an urgent prayer request, a quote from a sermon or the devotional “The Daily Bread,” but most of the time the handwritten notes come from the Bible.

“I tell kids when they see verses on my cart I don’t want them to think I am so spiritual, because I am the number one person who needs them, any verses are there for me first,” Esther said.

She explained she received Christ at camp at a young age, but after that she struggled with some doubts about her salvation. She thought when she became a follower of Christ she would become a perfect person. During this time of doubting, she went to a Bible conference and heard the speaker struggled with the same doubts. Esther still remembers the words he prayed, “Lord I don’t want to have doubts anymore. I believe you died on the cross for my sins, and I accept you.” She prayed the same thing beside her bed one day and since then she has grown, but she laughingly confessed she is not perfect and on a scale from one to 100, she believes she is probably a four.

She talked about her love for the Lord and how she trusts Him.
“He’s the main thing. I couldn’t make it without him that’s for sure,” Esther said. “Get saved … put God first and everything else will go into place.”

She speaks from a vast life experience. Esther has moved 30 times and had many different jobs over the years from working childcare, kitchen staff, youth clubs, house cleaning, grocery stores, selling Tupperware and even selling worms.

Now working at the dining hall Esther sees some interesting things.

“Everyday something happens that’s funny,” she said.
One time, she said, a student sang karaoke and asked her to come up on stage so he could sing to her. He would not take no for an answer so she told him with attitude to “find some pretty young girl.”

Another time a student told Esther about how he wanted to go on a date with a girl he liked, so Esther called the girl over and told her this, despite his embarrassment and red face. Looking back on this event Esther said, “don’t say anything to me if you don’t want me to say anything.”

She went on to talk about her joy at students who have graduated and come back to visit Liberty.

“It’s exciting to see the kids that have been here and come back,” she said.

Esther talked about her past and how she wanted 15 kids, but only had three.

“I would have been a good Mrs. Dugger … you know (the TLC show) 19 kids and counting,” Esther said.

Esther may not have 15 biological children, but through the relationships she has built with many Liberty students, Esther now has 12,000 kids and counting.

Contact Amanda Magee at

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