This week’s Tribune Tribute is dedicated to a fiercely independent woman, say her colleagues.
Sandy Russell, 57, works at Royall’s Soda Shoppe, and though her title may seem less than extraordinary to her — just a line prep as she calls it — she can pack a punch with personality.
“Want a salad, need some extra tomato?” chatters the familiar face of the store that claims to serve the world famous hot dogs in town.
“You gotta have some fun at work, but what you can’t do is mix up the customer’s order,” Russell said to The Tribune. “If there’s any mix-up, just blame it on the chef.”
“That’s because she gives me orders with multiple choices, like selecting medium and well-done,” joked Tracey Gentry, who is the head grill master for the shop. After the duo chucked in laughter, they posed for a photo for The Tribune. Gentry continued, “Sandy has the greatest attitude, all joking aside, and she really helps me move orders and keep everything in order. My life would be so much harder without her working here.”
“I’d be delighted to sit down with you,” Russell informed the Tribune when she realized that she was nominated and selected for a Tribune Tribute. “Honestly, I can’t understand why the paper would be interested in little old me.”
Russell has been working at Royall’s only for one year, but shares information on the establishment to customers like a historian.
“The store opened in the early 1920s and was the town’s first hospital,” declared Russell. “The upstairs served as the hospital and downstairs was a pharmacy that had a soda fountain.”
Royall’s, through its owner John Van Hoy, has kept the tradition of the soda fountain and lunch counter alive, says Russell, “And doing so gives me a job.
“I’ve been blessed, so grateful, have made so many friends working here, that all of it is a gift from God.”
According to Russell, the menu has been kept the same by it’s owners making her job task second nature. However, what connects Russell to the downtown business is spirituality.
“I’m able to thrive and shine working in a place that has strong Christian values and traditions,” said Russell. “I feel comfortable here.”
Russell is no stranger to struggles, she admits. The interview shifted to a more personal tone.
“I take care for my mother,” said Russell. “It a second job, but it’s my role.” Russell admits to dipping into housekeeping work for extra income. “No excuses, you have to make ends meet.”
Russell is a widow who was married to Gene Russell. She has a daughter, Shanna, and two grandchildren, Zailie (3), and newborn on December 28, Christalynn.
“Life is good,” said the speedy food prep. “Like many other grandmother’s, when I have a chance with free time I eat up my grandchildren. They’re the apple of my eye, a reason to keep pushing forward.”
Meeting people at the shop comes with many stories, she admits.
“One time, an elderly husband and wife returned to Elkin for a visit,” said a smiling Russell. “They came into the store, and the husband indicated to me that he had a crush on an employee of the soda shop since high school. It was the funniest moment watching my supervisor blush in embarrassment.”
When asked if Russell ever had any cupid-connection while working as a line clerk in the soda shop, she gleefully admitted that a special person does exist that makes her shine again.
“At my age, we don’t call it dating,” revealed Russell, “And I couldn’t imagine anyone liking me, but he does. It’s fantastic, the companionship, the friendship. It gives me butterflies again.”
When asked by The Tribune if he’s a current customer of the soda shop, Russell indicated that he stumbled in and has been coming back since.
When asked to disclose his name, Russell stated that, like a mother’s old recipe, “It’s my best kept secret.”
Reach Anthony Gonzalez by calling 835-1513 or email at email@example.com.