KEARNEY – University of Nebraska at Kearney student Graeme Cuizon eats at the Chick-fil-A on campus a few times each week.
He obviously enjoys the menu at the fast-food chain known for its chicken sandwiches and waffle fries, but that’s not the only draw.
Cuizon is also there to see Cindy Heaston, and he’ll give up his spot in line to get to her register.
“She’s honestly one of the best people on this campus,” said Cuizon, a business administration major from Greeley. “She’s always super-nice.”
The UNK Student Diplomat raves about Heaston and her ability to connect with students, describing her personality as “golden.”
“She makes an active effort to get to know people and their names,” he said. “That’s what really sets her apart.”
There are plenty of other Lopers who share the same feeling, as evidenced by last month’s student government election. Heaston was voted staff member of the year by the UNK student body, a reflection of their appreciation for the longtime dining services employee.
“She’s always so welcoming,” said sophomore Becca Meusch, noting that Heaston is the only person who can call her Becky and get away with it.
“She’s so sweet I would never correct her.”
Heaston, of Elm Creek, started working on the UNK campus in August 1998 as an evening cook in the cafeteria at University Residence South. After a brief stint with the former Papa John’s location there, she moved to The Market @ 27th on the second floor of the Nebraskan Student Union.
Last summer, as the new Chick-fil-A prepared to open in the union, she joined that team.
An employee of Chartwells, the university’s dining services provider, Heaston said she loves interacting with students and learning about their lives.
“I want to know how they’re doing,” said Heaston, who treats each customer the way she’d like to be treated.
She makes it a point to remember names and personal stories and is always willing to provide that emotional boost if it looks like someone is having a bad day.
“It feels like you’ve known her for a long time,” said Cuizon, a junior at UNK.
Meusch, a biology major and pre-physician assistant student from Bellwood, called Heaston a “ray of sunshine.”
“She just brightens your day,” Meusch said.
Heaston, a self-described wallflower in her younger years, said that friendliness isn’t a facade to earn recognition.
“I do this because I care, and I really like people,” she said.
The 51-year-old gets a little emotional when she thinks about the award, which came as a complete surprise, and the UNK students who think so highly of her.
“I’m really honored,” Heaston said. “I really am, because I never dreamed in a million years that I would get something like this. And it’s nice to be recognized.”
She plans to display the staff member of the year plaque at Chick-fil-A, where it will serve as a reminder that kindness doesn’t go unnoticed.