Celebrating decades of smiles

83-year-old Helen Fisher has been working at the Mt. Lebanon Boulevard McDonald’s for the past 33 years. She has greeted customers with her friendly smile at the drive-thru window for 28 of those years.

“Always a smile.” That’s how customers of the McDonald’s at 225 Mt. Lebanon Boulevard describe Helen Fisher.

If you’re a frequent patron, you’ve probably seen her friendly face greeting you at the drive-through window.

What you might be surprised to learn is that Helen Fisher recently celebrated her 83rd birthday and has been working at that particular McDonald’s for 33 years. “I love working here,” Fisher said.

She started at the front counter in 1990 and moved to the drive-through five years later, where she greets as many as 100 customers over a lunch hour. Eighty-percent of the business these days is drive-through.

Her enthusiasm for her job is infectious. Running two registers and greeting all those customers doesn’t phase her one bit. “After all these years, it just comes naturally,” she pointed out.

The restaurant is a two minute drive from Fisher’s Castle Shannon home and frequented by Mt. Lebanon residents, like Lydia Baird, McCully Street. She and her three kids spent a lot of time in Fisher’s drive-through line over the years. “I have enjoyed seeing Helen’s smiling face for nearly 30 years. She’s always so pleasant,” she said.

Owner-operators Kathy and John Santonastasso are thrilled to have Fisher around. “She’s just happy to be here working; always smiling. She just loves to take care of the customers,” said Kathy. John describes her as their hospitality ambassador. “She gets along with people so well,” he said.

Up until about three years ago, Fisher worked five days a week. “When I turned 80, I decided I was going to cut back a little bit, so I went to three days a week, five hours a day,” she said.

Fisher was named an All-American order taker by the McDonald’s Corporation when she was in her 50s.

Younger employees still call her “Miss Helen.” When fellow employees ask if she plans to retire anytime soon, she laughingly says “No, I enjoy that little bit of extra money and I get a new car every three years because I work!”

Customers, who were kids when Fisher first started working at McDonald’s, return years later as adults and remember her. That makes her feel good. “They always say I haven’t changed. Okay, that sounds good to me!” she chuckled.

Maybe it’s because she’s old school when it comes to wearing her name tag. It’s the first thing she puts on after her uniform.

What’s the secret to her longevity on the job?  “When I leave work, I take an ice cream cone home every day,” she said. And, her bosses are okay with that!

Photography by John Schisler