Two Decades of Cookies, Catering, Coffee, and Care: Dining Services’ Dorothy Vallee Honored with the 2023 Trustees Award

April 26, 2023

Dorothy Vallee stands in the Wheeler kitchen next to some muffins she made.
Dorothy and some of her freshly-baked muffins.

Dorothy Vallee remembers being a bit hesitant about joining Wheeler’s kitchen staff 24 years ago. One of her former colleagues from North Providence High School had come to Wheeler, and he contacted Dorothy over Spring Break that year to see if she’d be interested in joining him at Wheeler, too. “I thought maybe I wouldn’t fit in,” Dorothy admits. “I told him that I knew I could do the work, but I didn’t have a college education and I didn’t know if Wheeler would be a place for someone like me. He said, ‘Dorothy, you have to come. It’s a beautiful school, and you will love everything about it.’” Dorothy decided to give it a shot, and more than two decades later, she is one of the reasons why Wheeler continues to be that same beautiful school–starting with her baked goods.

“I bake the cookies, and I bake the muffins,” she says. “I’ve done the catering, too. If there was something special, I had to get everything ready. In the kitchen you learn a little bit of everything. And that’s what the day is. It does go by quickly because you’re so busy getting everything ready for the children.”

Head of School Allison Gaines Pell P’23, P’25 describes Dorothy as “a true unsung hero,” someone who has known and cared for thousands of students over the years. It is because of that dedication and care that Dorothy was recently honored with the 2023 Trustees Award, which is given annually to someone who has given an extraordinary amount of themselves to Wheeler. It is presented for extraordinary character and integrity, love of school as expressed in thought, word, and deed, willingness to give of self to the school, and a continuous dedication to the betterment of Wheeler.

Dorothy learned that she received the award in a surprise ceremony. She arrived at the Providence Art Club, thinking she was going to have dinner with family members. When they walked inside, Dorothy was greeted by AGP and the Board of Trustees. “Every day, you bring a smile, an amazing work ethic, and a love of Wheeler to everything you do,” AGP told her. “You bring these attributes to delivering coffee, just as you do to extending a smile to students who need a bit of extra love…I am sure that if every one of them were here right now, they would be cheering so loudly to give back to you the gestures of love, sympathy, kindness, and nourishment you have given to them.”

Dorothy holds the Trustees Award while standing next to her husband and Head of School Allison Gaines Pell.
Dorothy, alongside her husband, Dan, receives the Trustees Award from Head of School Allison Gaines Pell.

Board President Alisia St. Florian ’86 says there were no words to express the moment Dorothy came up the stairs and realized she was being recognized. “It was truly priceless. I think I would just say that Wheeler and the Board aim to honor, appreciate, and thank members of the community who, day in and day out, give of themselves, without any thought of recognition, for the love of the school and students. Dorothy exemplifies the personal touch that makes our school so much more than a learning environment and why students, like me, will look back and feel that Wheeler is really where they grew up.”

“It is the special people such as Dorothy who make Wheeler the nurturing environment it is for our children,” adds Vice President Daniel Becker P’25. “Showing kids that they are known and cared for adds so much to their well being every day at school.”

Dorothy says she never expected anything like receiving the Trustees Award. “But I was so delighted,” she says. “It means everything. I can honestly say that I’ve put in a lot of hard work, but I do that because I want to. I enjoy being here. I’ve known so many faculty members, office members, and students, and I just adore coming in every day.”

She credits her wonderful family, including her husband, Dan, and three sons with having her back every day. “I think that’s another reason I’ve been employed here so long. They are a part of who I am, and I’ve been so blessed.”

Her initial concerns about maybe not fitting in at Wheeler dissipated long ago, Dorothy says with a smile. “The school makes you feel so much at ease. Everyone has been so wonderful to me, and I’ve been so happy here. I really am honored that they would choose someone like me for this award. My husband was ecstatic. He was just so happy. He said, “’All your hard work does show.’”

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