Marge Beasley: ‘Image’

During more than 35 years in healthcare, Marge Beasley strove to improve her department's reputation—and, along the way, share strategies with peers.

FoodService Director - Spotlight - Marge BeasleyAt two major turning points in her life, Marge Beasley has taken the lemons fate handed her and transformed them—with grace, style and good humor—into lemonade. And, in both instances, she has consciously dedicated her efforts to inspiring others to follow suit.

Beasley, who retired last November after more than 35 years as food and nutrition services director at 300-bed Bloomington (Ind.) Hospital, came to a career in foodservice fairly naturally. But the “glamour" of hotel or restaurant foodservice management was more like what she had in mind.

Born and raised in West Lafayette, Ind., she grew up on a 100-acre farm to which her dad—an associate professor at Purdue University involved in agricultural youth programs, especially 4H—had enticed her mom, a city gal who taught home economics, to move. There Beasley and her brother helped their "gentleman farmer" dad tend to the beef and dairy cattle as well as assorted goats, sheep and pigs. As an avid 4H club member for more than 10 years, Beasley acquired group leadership skills while also enjoying the baking, cooking and canning projects—for county fair competitions—that were her mom's forte.

Family ties: By  the time Beasley was in middle school, her mom had begun a new career in residence hall foodservice management, also at Purdue. Since tuition for an employee's family was nominal, Beasley decided to follow her mother's lead.

In 1965, having completed her degree in institutional management in the school of home economics at Purdue, she headed for Antigua and her first job as food and beverage manager at the Anchorage Hotel—thanks to her uncle who owned it. By the fall of 1966, Beasley was back on the Purdue campus, enrolled in the master's program in industrial management and working in residence hall foodservice management.

Returning to Antigua for a vacation, she met her first husband. Since he was from Puerto Rico, the couple—and soon their young son, as well—lived there for the next three years. During that time, she also put in long hours as manager of a local Benihana.

Personal circumstances led her to leave Puerto Rico and return to Indiana with only her young son—and $5 in her pocket. "I immediately began looking for work," she recalls. "As a single mother, I couldn't work the 70-hour weeks at a restaurant, but I saw an ad in The Indianapolis Star for a foodservice director at Bloomington Hospital.

"I didn't have a clinical background, but they were looking for someone with management experience," she continues. "I figured I needed to step up to the plate since I had nothing and my parents were helping me out. Bloomington took a gamble and hired me in 1971. At the time, I would have been astonished to think I'd stay in healthcare foodservice this long."

Persistent purveyor: Two years later, a young produce vendor kept appearing at the receiving dock. She felt the department should keep their orders with their main purveyor, but her older—and wiser—supervisor liked the enterprising young merchant and encouraged his visits. By the end of the year, Marge and Charles, the produce vendor, were married; later, he adopted her son, who grew up to earn his master's degree in hospitality management and now works as a computer networking administrator in Indianapolis.

Meanwhile, Beasley was busy "making lemonade," having plunged into her new career determined to reposition healthcare foodservice in the public's mind. She figured she knew what good customer service meant from her work in hotels and restaurants—and was sure she could provide it in the hospital setting.

Ahead of the curve: "Along with a young dietitian, we plunged into recipe and menu development," she says. "Thanks to a very receptive boss, we became one of the first hospitals with room service. Following articles in The New York Times, we knew we'd really made it when even the National Enquirer wrote about it—on the same page as Boy George!"

Room service was originally designed for patients' families. "We also had a full-scale bakery operation," she explains, "did a substantial amount of catering and, with good food made from scratch—plus a bit of cook-chill later on—I was able to raise the perception of foodservice in the eyes of the public in our town. We were in the forefront of a variety of things including meals for new moms and dads, and I also wrote a book on starting up your own hospital-based vending business."

On the road: Avidly determined to share her insights, Beasley presented many workshops for the American Society for Health-care Foodservice Administrators (ASHFSA) and took part in its tour circuit of several cities, where she presented various business opportunities and angles operators could take to improve their bottom line. "I shared all the revenue-producing avenues we were pursuing at Bloomington and gave them my business plan as well as tips on marketing strategy," Beasley explains. "I enjoyed all those tours. I'd tell them not to reinvent the wheel. ‘Go ahead and copy what I'm doing,' I said, ‘and modify it to your business needs.'"

When Beasley received IFMA's Silver Plate award in healthcare in 1986, she wanted her "official" photo taken in her newly redesigned office with its handsome plum carpeting and upholstery, a beautiful painting hung on the freshly papered walls, and her étagère brimming with awards and souvenirs. "I intended the photo as another way to help change the image of healthcare foodservice—it was a wow!"

Beasley points to her early implementation of cook-chill technology—few hospitals were involved in 1981—as a direct response to a growing shortage of skilled cooks. This continues to be a major challenge today. In true Beasley style, she credits a number of mentors, including Paul Deignan (then at United Hospital Systems in Minneapolis) and Jerry Berk-man (then at Cedars Sinai Med-ical Center in Los Angles, now retired) who generously shared their cook chill expertise.

Spreading the word: In addition to presenting ideas through ASHFSA (she served as its president in 1981) as well as the National Society for Healthcare Foodservice Management (HFM) (serving as its president from 1999 through September 2000), Beasley has written more than 70 articles over the years for a monthly trade magazine. "I patterned my writing after Jim Rose, who was ASHFSA president before me," she says. "He was very smart and a gifted writer who died way too young." Of similar mentors, she says, "Many people were guiding lights to me and are still the icons of the industry."

As for the second "lemonade" moment in her life, see story below.

Taking It to the Mat

About a decade ago, Marge Beasley was diagnosed with spinal stenosis plus arthritis in the thoracic and lumbar regions of the spine. "I have been on a ‘journey' to find something that would alleviate my lower back pain," she points out.

"Five years ago, I started with the Pilates-style of conditioning and noticed a marked improvement in my back, increased flexibility in my joints, and overall much better health."

Now, having earned full certification as a Pilates mat and equipment instructor, she will be devoting her energies to opening a new Pilates studio in Bloomington, IN, and making it a successful business.

"I am at that point in my life," she asserts, "that I am going to be somewhat self-indulgent and follow a dream that has become a true passion: that of teaching Pilates and assisting others ‘of age' to have, as I have discovered, a more mobile and active lifestyle." Now, that's lemonade!