National Award Winners Celebrated as School Lunch Heroes

The non-profit School Nutrition Association (SNA) is celebrating the efforts of school nutrition professionals all week leading up to School Lunch Hero Day on May 6.  During an online award ceremony on May 2, SNA President Beth Wallace, MBA, SNS, announced national Director, Manager and Employee of the Year award winners, recognized for their dedication and outstanding commitment. Wallace says even faced with a second challenging school year because of the pandemic, these professionals prioritize the nutritional needs of the children in their schools first.

Robert Rolfe, School Nutrition Director for Henderson County Public Schools, NC, was named the National Director of the Year. Sharon Owensby, SNS, Catering Manager at Lee’s Summit High School in Lee’s Summit R-7 School District, MO, was named the National Manager of the Year. Stephanie Sheley, a cook at Holmen High School in School District of Holmen, WI, was named the National Employee of the Year

Robert Rolfe, School Nutrition Director for Henderson County Public Schools, NC

Robert Rolfe, School Nutrition Director for Henderson County Public Schools, NC, the National Director of the Year

Rolfe has been an immediate asset to the team since starting with Henderson County Public Schools. In 2017, he helped roll out a summer meals program that nowserves students at several school sites and from two buses with 22 “Meals on the Bus” stops in the community. During the summer of 2020, the district had multiple school sites open and expanded its “Meals on the Bus” routes to feed students during the pandemic.

Rolfe applied for several grants to purchase mobile serving carts used for Second Chance Breakfast at some of the middle and high schools. His goal is to expand the program to all the district’s schools. He has been able to increase participation in the lunch program at two of the high schools by adding a popular pizza option.

By teaming up with a local organization, Rolfe encouraged composting at six of the district’s elementary schools. The district works with the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program and when the budget allows, Rolfe encourages an introduction of unconventional fruits and vegetables to the elementary students.

He has been hands-on with the planning and development of three new kitchens in the county’s schools. Rolfe also tries to be visible in schools; he has helped deliver preschool meals and read to elementary school classes during Read Across America Week.

Rolfe understands the importance of developing a team that is knowledgeable about child nutrition. He keeps managers updated on information needed to do their best job. He   understands the importance of retaining good employees and has implemented a bonus system as well as reimbursement for slip resistant shoes. Rolfe is also happy to show new employees new or better ways to make their job easier.   

Sharon Owensby, Catering Manager Lee’s Summit R-7 School District, MO

Sharon Owensby, SNS, Catering Manager at Lee’s Summit High School in Lee’s Summit R-7 School District, MO, the National Manager of the Year

Sharon Owensby stepped up when the pandemic closed schools. She and the team worked hard to ensure all the children in the community were fed, setting up the high school for curbside operations. She created flyers to hand out with meals, encouraging parents to share information on pandemic meal service with other families. Her efforts during this time were recently acknowledged with the Character Award of Perseverance at the Mayor’s Breakfast in Lee’s Summit. Before serving as the district’s catering manager,  Owensby held multiple positions during her 13 year career with the district. 

Sharon Owensby always puts the students first. She seeks their input on menu items and tries to incorporate foods they request, including adding vegetable cups, bento boxes, hummus and most recently, a coffee bar in the school. She encourages staff members to get to know students by name and greet them with smiles.

The quality of the meals she provides has not gone unnoticed. A credit to her creativity, Owensby has been asked to prepare meals for football banquets, annual pancake breakfasts and staff meetings.  The students and staff know they can rely on her to give them exactly what they want to make their events special, from prom to homecoming celebrations. 

As the catering manager, Owensby is visible in the community and uses those opportunities to promote the school nutrition program. After an event, her supervisors often receive many phone calls complimenting Owensby’s professionalism and level of service.

Sharon Owensby’s reputation as a positive person and great leader has driven many to want to join her kitchen’s staff.  Job openings don’t usually last long because everyone wants to work for her.      

Stephanie Sheley, Cook, School District of Holmen, WI

Stephanie Sheley, cook at Holmen High School in the School District of Holmen, WI, the National Employee of the Year

Stephanie Sheley has been described as creative, always smiling and a good mentor.  She has been instrumental in designing the school’s premium Grab-n-Go Salads. Offering everything from Chicken Bacon Ranch salad to Cranberry Walnut Blue Cheese salad, she’s raised the bar on typical school cafeteria menus.  The salad bar she designed for the high school rivals any restaurant in the area. Parents frequently tell school employees how much their students love it.

But Stephanie Sheley is much more than just the person behind amazing salads. She has an infectious personality – her line is often the longest when she serves lunch because the kids want to see her. She makes it a point to learn their names and knows most of the 1,200 students, creating positive relationships with so many by doing little things to make them feel special. When one of her special needs students comes to the cafeteria, he insists on going through Sheley’s line so they can do a special little dance together.

Her supervisor says when a manager is absent, Sheley willingly fills that leadership role. She also takes on extra projects around the cafeteria. She enjoys creating signage for special events and keeping the school’s chalk board menus interesting with her artistic talents. She has painted two murals in two elementary schools within the School District of Holmen that were featured in the October 2019 edition of SN Magazine.  

Stephanie Sheley was selected to be featured in the school district’s recruitment videos. Her role as a mentor to co-workers doesn’t go unnoticed; she provides a great example of a committed school nutrition professional.

These three national award winners and 17 regional award winners will be celebrated in conjunction with an appreciation campaign leading up to School Lunch Hero Day (SLHD) on Friday, May 6. The National Director, Manager and Employee of the Year recipients receive an all-expense paid trip to SNA’s Annual National Conference, July 10-12, 2022 in Orlando, FL, where they will be recognized during the General Session.

SNA has teamed up with Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author and illustrator of the popular LUNCH LADY graphic novel series, and Random House Children’s Books to celebrate all of America’s school nutrition professionals through School Lunch Hero Day, on Friday, May 6. Students, faculty and parents across the country will show their appreciation with thanks, cards and recognition for their cafeteria staff. Visit for more information.

In addition to the 10th Anniversary of School Lunch Hero Day, this year also marks the return of the Lunch Lady graphic novels which are being re-released in new, full-color editions along with full-cast audio books featuring Kate Flannery from The Office. 

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