HUNTINGBURG, Ind. (WEHT) – For more than 20 years, Oralee Cotton made a home at Southridge High School as the Food Service Director for Southwest Dubois County Schools. Sisters Cathy Crossley and Rita Maclin say she also made a point to help anyone who showed a need.
“She loved those kids, she loved those co-workers,” says Crossley. “And that was always her goal when she was taken out of school for illness, it was to get back to work and get back to the kids.”
That day unfortunately never came. Cotton died early this year after a long battle with cancer. Over the Summer, the family held a yard sale that raised just under $2,000 for the school’s cafeteria fund. But the family didn’t stop there.
“We decided to take some of her life insurance money too to put with that,” explains Crossley, “because we wanted to give an amount that would be honorable to her.”
New Food Service Director Margaret Leavitt says the school was in shock at the donation. While the school has not released the amount, Leavitt says it will provide a lasting impact.
“The donation that they gave us will alleviate all student lunch debt, and will continue to alleviate student lunch debt,” says Leavitt.
To many, this gesture comes as no surprise. The family says Oralee was one who gave to those in need and often considered students at Southwest Dubois School Corporation children of her own.
“It’s nothing new,” says Southridge High School Principal Greg Gogel. “I mean, she cared so much about the students here.”
Principal Gogel says Cotton set an example for students as well as staff.
“I hope I can have some level of commitment and dedication that she did through all the trials and tribulations she was going through,” says Gogel.
“Oralee was bound and determined to make sure that somebody, if that child was delinquent in their school bill, that they were still eating,” says Maclin.
Leavitt adds, “We hate having to the bearer of bad news, and the fact that every student will come in next week and have zero lunch debt, what an amazing feeling for us and for them and the families.”
The school says Cotton also helped design the current layout of the cafeteria, and future upgrades to the cafe area also feature input from Cotton. Leavitt says there are plans in the future to design a memorial of Cotton to display inside Southridge High School.