On her last shift as a waitress at the Red Brick Tavern, Neval Pennell waits on Sally Hoey who was enjoying lunch during a recent meeting of the London Rotary Club.
Neval Pennells first job turned out to be her only job. On Dec. 15, she hung up her apron for the last time after 64 years as a waitress at the Red Brick Tavern.
Neval, 79, served her first customers at the historic Lafayette landmark in 1947 when she was just 15. Her future sister-in-law, Mary (Runyon) Conley, worked there and helped her to get on the payroll.
“I needed a job real bad, Neval said.
It was at the Red Brick that Neval met her future husband, John Pennell, who joined the staff in 1948 and worked as a waiter for about five years. The two got married in 1950, had two sons, and for most of their lives lived within two or three miles of the Red Brick. When they lived in Lafayette, Neval walked to work.
She remembers fried chicken nights being a big draw at the restaurant in her early days. Crab leg specials brought out the crowds, too, she said. No matter what or whom she was serving, Neval enjoyed the work.
“Every day was a new challenge with new customers. I enjoyed the people and always had good employers to work for, she said.
Neval was a constant through six ownership changes at the Red Brick. Her first boss was Nell Braskett. Her last bosses were current owners Cris Cummins and Madonna Christy. In between, she worked for Joe and Ruth Murphy, John Sawyer, Gene and Shirley Freet, and Sean Freet.
For the last 30 years, she was the dedicated waitress for the London Rotary Clubs weekly lunchtime meetings at the restaurant. For club members, Neval was an institution within an institution.
“When I think of Rotary and the Red Brick, I think of Neval, said Rotary President Melissa Canney.Shes just always been there for us and always done her job well…We all thought of her as an honorary member.
Appreciative of her hard work, Rotary always gave Neval an extra nice tip at the end of the yearto sweeten her wallet for the holidays. They did so again this year, adding a little more to the gift in honor of her last day on the job.
Neval cited back problems as the main reason she decided to finally retire. All those years on her feet took a toll physically, plus she said,It was just time to say, ‘Thats it.
A homebody by nature, Neval said she looks forward to doing things around the house that until now she didnt have time to do.
As for whether or not she misses her work routine, she said shes been too busy with the holidays to take stock. Hopefully, when she does, shell have her feet up, relaxing.