- Associated Press - Saturday, February 13, 2016

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) - Clara Riley started waitressing when she was a 16-year-old. She’s now 81.

Although she no longer has to work to pay her bills, Riley chooses to serve every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Michael’s Restaurant in St. Cloud.

“I’ll do it as long as I’m able,” said Riley, who doesn’t take any major medication and still regularly exercises at the Whitney Senior Center.

“I do it now because I enjoy it. And it’s nice to make extra cash so I can treat my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

Riley was born in St. Joseph, raised in Waite Park and graduated from St. Cloud’s Technical High School in 1953, the St. Cloud Times (http://on.sctimes.com/1V4cTnD ) reported.

Her first job was at St. Cloud’s Koffee Cup. She later served at Chef’s Cafe, Germain Hotel, Press Lounge, The Hub, Ivan’s in the Park and Persian Supper Club. She’s only worked for family-owned establishments.

“People often ask me ‘How do I know you?’” Riley said. “I always say ‘I must’ve waited on you.’

“A lot of times I can’t tell you (a person’s) name but I can tell you what they drink or like to eat.”

Riley, who raised five children, attempted to retire in the late 1990s. It marks the only two-month stretch in the last 65 years where she wasn’t employed.

“I had to write a check to buy a loaf of bread,” Riley said. ‘I didn’t have any cash in my purse and I always had cash (from tips). Plus I was so bored. I missed being around people.”

She applied at Michael’s Restaurant because the restaurant at 510 Highway 10 S hosts banquets - her favorite events to serve. She’s sometimes called into work lunch shifts or special catering events.

And she still meets regularly with old co-workers, most of whom are younger than her own children.

“Almost every night, someone comes in and asks ‘Where’s Clara?’ said Michael’s Restaurant owner Heinrich Wurdak. “A lot of people know and appreciate her.”

Riley said she doesn’t load her serving trays as heavy as she used to. She’s also cautious about carrying items up stairs.

But she still has the same routine when taking an order, starting with a female at the table then going clockwise. She’s also always written down every order to avoid mistakes.

“She still teaches us,” Wurdak joked.

Riley said diners have changed significantly over the years.

“They don’t have as much to drink as they used to,” said Riley, who herself is allergic to alcohol. “You used to be able to sell a couple drinks before dinner and then always an after-dinner drink. It’s all because of how the drinking laws have changed.

“Also people used to eat more and order more. I think people are more conscious financially and diet-wise.”

But Riley’s profession hasn’t changed. And she’s planning on adding more years to her resume.

“My main exercise these days is waitressing,” Riley said. “I would thoroughly miss it.”

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Information from: St. Cloud Times, http://www.sctimes.com

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