Mary Hasson stands in front of an old photograph of the old Riefe's Drive In, Thursday, October 4, 2012, in the current Riefe's while holding some bread pudding. She has been working here for 40 years. (John Schultz / Quad-City Times)

John Schultz

As an old-timer myself, it’s time we say “you’re special” to people have been working at exactly the same place for 40 years or more. Today, I’m beginning a series on people who “stay put” with the same employer for four decades or longer. The columns  on these long-timers will appear on   occasional Wednesdays. Call me with suggestions at 563-383-2249 or or by mail at 500 E. 3rd St., Davenport, Iowa 52801.

At the age of 18, Mary Hasson had just graduated from Davenport West High School and taken a job as a server at Riefe’s Restaurant in Davenport. Her intent was to stay a few years until going to college.

It is 40 years later. Mary is still at Riefe’s. She has never worked anyplace else and would never think of switching jobs.

“They can call me a server,” she says with a bossy smile, “but I’m still a waitress to my customers. I love them all.”

They love her, too, especially when she bakes an apricot pie at home for someone, or on Wednesdays, when she makes a pan of bread pudding for customers.

Mary earned her bachelor’s degree in history at the former Marycrest College, all the while working nights full-time at Riefe’s.

“It’s more fun here than working at some place like a museum,” she says.

Mary is so devoted to her job and her regulars that when she recently marked her 40th year at the northwest Davenport restaurant she brought two sheet cakes as a personal celebration.

Mary is flitting around like a bumblebee while we visit. She’s back and forth, working tables and sitting down — a few minutes at a time — to talk about her 40 years serving tenderloins and frog legs and fried chicken and hot pork sandwiches.

“She’s absolutely amazing,” says Dan Riefe, one of the owners of the place. “She’s ahead of the customers, filling up their coffee cups before they’re half empty. I really believe that she could serve this whole place by herself.”

After 40 years on her feet — which, she says, never get sore — Mary has tales to tell.

“Once I dumped a chocolate soda over three executives from Northwest Bank,” she says, trying to keep from laughing.  “But my worst was when a customer brought in one of those big Dairy Queen birthday cakes. It was to serve 10 or 12. I had it on a tray and it slipped from the tray to the booth and then to the floor. I wanted to hurry out and get another one, but they said no. They picked it off the floor and ate it.”

When  Mary started at Riefe’s in 1972, her pay was $1 an hour. Coffee was 15 cents a cup. “Plus one-cent tax,” she quickly says. In those days, servers wore white dresses and hair nets. Now, it’s black slacks, and she doesn’t recall when they quit hair nets.

Dan Riefe joins us in a booth with a

calculator to figure out how many customers Mary has served in 40 years. He says the numbers show that Mary has served at least a half-million patrons.

“It’s been a good living. A server can make good money. Tips are better since I began.  Customers are more big-hearted. I once got a $50 tip,” she says before dashing off to tend to another table.

“It’s been an interesting life, too. I’ve seen changes. Customers are more picky now than when I  began. Healthier foods, vegetarian meals, that sort of thing.”

Mary works the night shift, and after 40 years, she shrugs: “Why quit now? The Riefe brothers (Dan and Rick) are wonderful bosses,  I think I’m good for another five years.”

Many of her customers have been with her for much of her career.

We have to quit talking. Another table has just been filled, but Mary steps aside to wave goodbye to Dick and Jan Kluger. They have had their evening meal with her for as long as she can remember.