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Loretta Boehm has been a fixture at the Capitol Café for half a century. Bilal Suleiman / NDNA

No term limits for this North Dakotan: Capitol Cafe cashier has been a fixture for 50 years

BISMARCK — When Loretta Boehm stared working at the Capitol Café, they sold cigarettes and cigars at the counter.

Egg salad sandwiches were 50 cents. Coffee and candy bars cost a nickel each. “Except for Mounds and Almond Joys. Those were a dime,” Boehm said.

Loretta Boehm has been serving up smiles at the Capitol Café in the North Dakota Capitol since 1969. If you’ve picked up a sandwich or a salad in the Capitol in the last 49 years, you’ve likely met her.

Boehm grew up and went to school in McClusky. After graduating with the class of 1967, she worked at the register of deeds office there.

“I was only there for maybe six months and then they changed to microfilming everything.” So she got laid off.

After a year of business classes at a now defunct community college, Boehm saw an ad in the paper for a job as kitchen help.

“So I called up, and the lady, her name was Maggie, answered and said ‘Well can you come up today?’ and I said ‘Well it’s going to take me a while because I have to walk and I live quite a ways down,'” Boehm said.

“’Oh, that’s no problem’ she said. ‘I’ll come down to your apartment and interview you,’” Boehm said.

Boehm still walks about two blocks to work every morning, arriving at about 5:40 a.m. to get a jump-start on the day. She doesn’t drive and has never owned a car.

Boehm runs the main cash line at the café, which has two lines of customers compared to the other tills, which only have one line. It is from this vantage point that she meets nearly every person who comes through the café.

Boehm has met Australians, Norwegians and everyone in between. She’s watched raucous arguments occur in the lunch line between lobbyists, legislators, state officials and the press. She knows what veteran members of the state government like to eat for lunch every day.

“Gov. Schafer used to come in every day and get a bottle of pop. Gov. Dalrymple, when he was lieutenant governor, he’d come in almost every day and have a sandwich at the grill. Grilled cheese with bacon; it was his favorite,” Boehm said.

Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle always gets a cup of soup, and longtime Rep. Bob Martinson’s favorite meal is tuna noodle hot dish.

Back when Loretta started, the lunch ladies at the café wore dresses and waited on tables.

“Finally, towards the late '70s they decided we could wear slacks and a nice top. That was kind of nice,” Boehm said, adding that waitressing ended in the late '80s or early '90s.

Boehm said they used to take a lunch cart up through Memorial Hall, which was popular among legislators who were at their desks. She described how the Café used to have open house days, when the cafeteria would set up long tables covered with free coffee and cookies. “People always looked forward to that,” she said.

When she’s not at work, Boehm likes to spend time reading, watching TV and embroidering. Sometimes she’ll go to the movies.

Despite all the changes that have taken place at the Capitol since 1969, one constant remains: Loretta Boehm.

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