Mother of the Huddle’ perseveres
Marisa Iati | Thursday, February 9, 2012
“Mother of the Huddle” Helen Hiatt has watched over the LaFortune grocery store’s grounds since 1967, working her way from the old cigarette counter to the cash register over the past 44 years.
“I came in on Monday morning and that afternoon I was working,” she said. “I sold cigarettes for 11-and-a-half years. And then when they quit selling cigarettes on campus I lost my job there, so I went back to that register [in the Huddle Mart] and I worked there for 25 years.”
Hiatt said she became acquainted with many varsity football players as they frequented the Huddle after practice.
“They’d come in and talk to me about their problems and different things, and they started calling me their second mother,” Hiatt said. “It continued on and I got to be ‘The Mother of the Huddle’ after so many years. And [former quarterbacks] Joe Theismann and Joe Montana and … the football players would come in.”
University President Emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh and Executive Vice President Emeritus Father Edmund Joyce used to joke with Hiatt about how long she had worked at the Huddle, she said.
“So I worked 35 hours a week then and … in my 80s, I went down to 15 hours a week,” she said. “When I had my 85th birthday, the manager … got me a cake as big as three of those tables out there.”
Hiatt said Notre Dame’s current students seem different than those in years past, but it is difficult to identify how.
“But they’re still nice, they’re still wonderful to me,” she said. “The kids get by with more than they did when I was a kid. The parents are more lenient with them, I think.”
Working at the Huddle has had its challenges, Hiatt said. She said that while most people she encounters have been kind, some managers, students and parents have given her a rough time.
“My motto was, ‘Just keep your mouth shut. You’ll be here longer than they are,'” she said. “And that’s what it’s been like.”
Despite some difficult moments, Hiatt said most people treated her well.
“The people are nice to me,” she said. “I like to be around people and I like my work. If I don’t want to work, I can sit down and rest a little bit.”
Retail associate Beverly Fillmore said she has worked with Hiatt on the Huddle staff for 27 years.
“She will do just about everything she can possibly do for you,” Fillmore said. “She’s a wonderful woman and we call her ‘The Mother of the Huddle’ because she takes care of all of us here.”
Hiatt, who is legally blind, said she hoped to continue working at the Huddle for as long as possible. She works most weekdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. stocking condiments and keeping the facilities clean. Hiatt said she will be 90 years old in June, but still loves to work.
“This October, I’ll be here 45 years, if I make it that long, and I started on my 45th birthday,” Hiatt said. “I like the people and I enjoy my work and the bosses have been really nice to me. I don’t think I could have found anything any nicer and I enjoy coming in even now.”