Teresa Balawen may be only 4-foot-9 with tiny feet, but when she retires from McDonald’s today, she’s leaving big shoes to fill.
Balawen, 78, has been a familiar face in the lobby of McDonald’s, 1309 W. Sixth St., for decades. Now, after more than 20 years working in the kitchen and keeping the lobby spick-and-span, she’s retiring to spend time at home with her husband. The restaurant will host a retirement party for her from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Friday afternoon. The public is welcome to attend.
“I will miss many people here,” she said.
Balawen came to the United States in the early 1990s from the Philippines. Her daughter, Norma Schmidt, had moved to Lawrence and brought her mother here. Soon after arriving, she started in the kitchen at McDonald’s, making salads and parfaits.
“She didn’t like it the first time,” Schmidt said.
That sentiment changed quickly, though, and people started to recognize Balawen. In the last decade, she moved full-time to cleaning the lobby, which store manager Janet Donner said was always spotless.
“We don’t ever worry about the lobby,” Donner said. “You know it’s taken care of.”
Balawen’s work ethic and dependability was recognized, and she made an impression on customers.
“She’s the hardest working person I’ve ever seen,” said one man in passing.
Schmidt said when she goes to the store with her mother, people will often stop them to say hi. One time, it even happened when they were at a hospital for a checkup.
“She knows more people than me,” Schmidt said.
Donner said there is a large group of regulars who drink coffee there every morning.
“I don’t know how they’re going to react not having Teresa here,” Donner said. “She’s great with the customers.”
She’s also great with her job. Many of the kitchen workers affectionately call her “Mama” and help her lift heavy loads. Aletia Vaughn, a human resources supervisor, said that one time she spilled while filling her cup and tried to wipe it up. Balawen was there before she had a chance, and the mess was cleaned.
“Her smile makes my morning,” Vaughn said.
Balawen is retiring at the urging of her family. She will stay home and care for her 80-year-old husband, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease. Schmidt said her mother loves to garden and hopes that will keep her occupied.
“She might get bored. She likes being with people,” Schmidt said. “In the Philippines, you have neighbors all over.”
Balawen knows she’ll visit the restaurant regularly after retiring, and she’ll see employees and customers who love her.
“I will miss many people here,” she said. “I have many friends.”