By Crystal Thompson
KREMLIN Ask anyone at KG Elementary in Kremlin who makes the best food in the world, and the answer is unanimous: Elsie Werbelow.
Werbelow has worked in the KG school system for twenty eight years, beginning as a dishwasher in 1973. Five years later she took over as head cook for the elementary lunchroom, and has been working there ever since.
Elsie has cooked and served meals for hundreds of hungry elementary students for over two decades, and says that she still enjoys her work. The students enjoy her work as well, according to KG fifth grader Reece Sterner. "It's good, good, good!" Sterner said. After much thought, he decided that his favorite school lunch was Elsie's chili and cinnamon rolls, "but I like everything," he added.
KG elementary, which currently has thirty-nine students enrolled in kindergarten through sixth grade, serves lunch in a small cafeteria which is situated next to the gymnasium. Anyone visiting the school can find Werbelow and her assistant cook, Denise Vosen, working hard every weekday morning preparing the day's meal.
Vosen began as assistant cook thirteen years ago, and said that working with Elsie has been, and continues to be a great experience. "She has made it so easy and enjoyable," Vosen said. Members of the Kremlin community sometimes stop by the cafeteria for a homemade lunch prepared by Elsie and Denise. Special guests to the school can always count on being invited to stay for lunch.
Elsie was born and raised in Salzburg, Austria, where she met Elmer "Bud" Werbelow, who was in the service at the time. The two were married in Salzburg in 1947. Students who were in KG elementary during the late seventies remember Elsie relaying her intriguing stories of life during the war at a school assembly. Elsie and Bud moved to Kremlin in 1955 and have lived there since. Bud was formerly employed as a custodian at KG Elementary.
Elsie said that Bud claims to have taught her how to cook, "He says he had to teach me how to boil water," she said, smirking.
Though that may be stretching the truth a bit, Elsie did admit to having some trouble with an American recipe at one time. She said that former neighbor and school cook June Johnson once gave her some cooking instructions that had her stumped, "The recipe called for one cup of H20," Elsie said. As a native of Austria, Elsie was not familiar with water being referred to as H20. "I had never heard that expression before," she said. Elsie said that she finally had to go to the store and ask one of the grocers what H20 was.
Since then, however, Elsie seems to have gotten the art of cooking down. Many KG elementary alumni agree that nothing can beat a school meal prepared by Elsie. A sign hanging in the elementary lunchroom resonates the sentiment, it reads "Elsie World's Best Cook". Elsie, who remains undyingly modest, is quick to dismiss that claim, but says that she truly enjoys what she does.
Elsie said that the "World's Best Cook" sign came about after a new student to KG tried her mashed potatoes. He brought her the sign a few weeks later stating that she deserved it because her mashed potatoes were made from real potatoes. The sign has been hanging in the lunchroom since that day.
Elsie did say that she does not do all the cooking at home, however. Bud has been known to cook up a pot of chicken noodle soup every now and then, she said. If it's true that Bud taught his wife all she knows about cooking, then it's certain that there would be a hoard of KG students who wouldn't mind giving Bud's cooking a taste test as well.
Elsie's cooking has earned a delicious reputation with the many generations of KG elementary students, who love to show her their appreciation. At the end of every meal, which many times contains second and third helpings, nearly all the elementary kids give Elsie a hug before departing for recess. The hugging tradition is one of the things Elsie enjoys about her job, she said. "I enjoy pleasing others," she added.
Pleasing others is exactly what Elsie is good at, according to the staff of KG Elementary. "She's a great cook," said fifth grade teacher Twyla Dyrland, "I think she's a good lady, and very friendly with the kids, they really like her," she said, proving that the students of KG are not the only ones who benefit from Elsie's good-humored personality and knack for snacks. Dyrland also admitted that no one cooks french dip like Elsie.
Elsie is known not only for her school lunches, but for her support of KG and community activities. She has been an active member of the Kremlin community for over 45 years. She and Bud are often seen at school-related activities and on the sidelines of KG basketball games, showing their Kougar pride.
"Elsie is the most kindhearted, thoughtful person I know," said KG kindergarten teacher Fern Larson, who has worked at KG elementary since 1975.
KG elementary is a close-knit school, which currently holds thirty nine students. Elsie said that she has seen the numbers of students go up and down over the years. "I've seen the school have over eighty kids," she said, "and now there's only thirty-nine."
One of KG elementary's most beloved tradition centers around the lunchroom. The school celebrates student and staff members' birthdays by allowing them to choose a favorite meal. On a bulletin board just outside the lunchroom is posted the name of the person celebrating their birthday. That person is given the privilege of choosing their "birthday meal" for the day. Elsie takes birthday requests in advance and their favorite meal is planned for that person's special day. Most requested birthday meals are nachos, tacos, chili and cinnamon rolls, and french dip, said Elsie.
For years Elsie Werbelow has been a cheerful addition to the tiny Kremlin elementary school. KG students past and present agree that no one can tickle their taste buds quite the way Elsie can. As long as the students are happy, Elsie remains content with her job as world's best cook.