Puchie Salazar has become a beloved fixture in the kitchen and cafeteria at Wellington Middle School. In her long tenure there, she has made fast friends with the kitchen workers, school staff, and most importantly with the stream of kids who flow through the lunchroom every day.
“I love the kids,” she says. “They’re nice kids. They’re polite.” A huge poster in the cafeteria with Puchie’s name at the top is filled with expressions about how the students and staff feel about her.
Salazar began working in the Wellington schools at Eyestone Elementary in the mid 1990s and has been at WMS for at least 16 years. She retired on Sept. 30.
A native of Germany, she still speaks with an accent but she has practically forgotten her given name (Woltrount) which, she explains, her American husband insisted would be unpronounceable in the U.S. “I’m calling you Puchie,” he announced, and Puchie she has been ever since.
She met Joe Salazar, 12 years her senior, when he was in the military in Germany. When he retired, they settled in Wellington to be close to his family who lived in Denver and Fort Collins. Joe found a job at Hewlett Packard and Puchie, who had experience in food service at a hotel in Germany, signed on part-time with PSD.
She has been in charge of the extensive salad bar at WMS, arriving every morning before 10 a.m. to chop and arrange vegetables and fruit. Then she helps to serve food during two rounds of lunch, pausing for a few minutes in-between to share her lunch with the rest of the crew.
Now 74, Puchie is looking forward to having more time to care for her beautiful yard, lavish attention on her chihuahua mix puppy, a recent gift from her boss, and devote more time to crafts. She enjoys creating wreaths and flower arrangements and participating in holiday craft fairs.
She’s a “life is good” kind of person, expressing appreciation for a wonderful marriage, (Joe died in 2003.) a sweet daughter, Susie Hansen, who lives close to her, and the kind man from Fort Collins who comes to cut her grass every couple of weeks. “No charge,” he told her. A neighbor of Puchie’s had suggested he might help out by doing that chore for her.
I’ll be back to visit,” Puchie promised as she finished up her meal and got ready for round two in the lunch room on Sept. 30, her last day of work. She choked up just a little, and so did those around her.