“I don’t think I’ve done anything special,” Debra Koran quietly insisted as her bright eyes panned around Kresge Dining Hall underneath her characteristic glasses. Although her co-workers and students claim she has revolutionized their cafeteria experience, Koran does not fully see the uniqueness of what she brings to her work.
John Brown University students may not recognize Koran’s full name but if they’ve eaten in the JBU cafeteria at all this school year, they will recognize her friendly face and her cheery voice without a doubt. For a semester now, Koran has transformed the mundane activity of entering the caf into an uplifting experience that students and staff can look forward to each day.
Koran has become famous this semester for her characteristically energetic yet unashamedly heartfelt greetings at the entrance to the caf. When students walk in, they are likely to hear, “Hi, guys!” or another pleasant greeting.
Never before has scanning students’ IDs in the caf warranted such a warm welcome for students and faculty, and Koran means every word.
“I just want to see everybody come in with a smile, I want to see everybody happy,” Koran said. “So if I can bring a little joy into your life, more power to it.”
Joy she brings, day in and day out, to Kresge customers and her coworkers alike.
Brittany Clauson, Koran’s manager, claimed that working with Koran is a whirlwind of goofiness, quirky earrings and silver bracelets. Clauson said that Koran’s bubbly attitude finds a way to affect each person she interacts with.
“I’ve seen the change this semester with the students,” Clauson fondly recalled. “I see more happy students; students who actually want to come in.”
As Clauson spoke about her employee and close friend, her eyes lit up and she couldn’t help but smile as she talked. Even the mere thought of Koran’s impact seemed to shift Clauson’s outlook on her afternoon, even if for a moment.
Momentary joy is all that Koran attempts to bring to students. A simple greeting—laced with an occasional “darlin’”—upon entering the caf and a chirpy “Have fun!” upon exit are likely the only interactions students have with Koran, but she’s okay with that.
Koran confessed, “I have kind of adopted each one of you as my children. I want to see everybody happy because I believe that once you get out in the world you have enough hardship to worry about, enough things to stress about.”
Koran knows a thing or two about facing the world and its stress. For almost 13 years Koran worked at Simmons Foods Inc., the local chicken plant in Siloam. When people at JBU ask Koran why she is always wearing a smile, she replies, “For 13 years the only thing I had to smile at were the chickens as they went across the line!” Koran laughed, “It’s nice to be able to see friendly faces.”
Koran is motivated each day by the simple fact that she loves her job. When students ask what she loves about it so much, she often gestures to them. “What makes me happy is when you guys come in,” Koran said. “I get up in the morning and I’m like, ‘I get to go to work—yay!’”
After all those years in a chicken processing factory, Koran is genuinely grateful for her current job.
“That’s what I wish for all of you, that you guys find one job that you go to and that you love,” Koran said. She has learned that it is best for a person to have at least one bad job before they’re able to truly appreciate a good job. “This job right here is the best I’ve ever had,” Koran remarked cheerily.
Chase Poage, a senior at JBU, has come to the conclusion that Koran’s influence in the caf is all the more valuable because of her passion for spreading the joy she possesses. Poage reflected on Koran’s impact and spoke about how powerful it is that Koran is able to take her excitement for her job and use it to pour into the students.
Poage has enjoyed Koran’s dependable, encouraging presence this semester. “It’s always good to have almost a motherly figure to smile at you, ask you how you’re doing, giggle with you, and tell you a joke here and there to lift your spirits,” Poage shared.
As for Koran, she’s humble about the impact her enthusiasm has made. “Other people might think I’ve done something special, but I don’t think so,” Koran explained in the middle of the bustling caf, smiling as usual.