Inspiring Stories

After Brightening Lives for 45 Years, Methodist Hospital Cafeteria Staffer to Retire

Published: Dec. 17, 2019
Merl Drey in the Children's Hospital kitchen in 1979.
Merl Drey in the Children's kitchen in 1979.
As a member of the Methodist Hospital Nutrition Services staff, Merl was known for rarely missing work, making countless friends while on the job and greeting anyone and everyone with his signature, “Hi. How you doin’?”

The beloved figure known by so many will retire Dec. 22 after 38 years in the hospital cafeteria. Prior to his work at Methodist, Merl spent seven years in a similar role at what is now Children’s Hospital and Medical Center. 


One of Methodist’s Greatest Ambassadors 

Over 100 people – family, friends and coworkers – stopped by the Methodist Hospital cafeteria Thursday to honor him, share memories and wish him well.

Among them was Merl’s supervisor, Jasmine Ellis, who oversees the cafeteria’s dish room and its employees. She said she’ll miss Merl’s positive energy and his impact on coworkers and hospital visitors.

“No matter what type of day he has had, Merl will leave here and go to each individual, and whether he knew them or not, he’ll always say, ‘Hello. Have a great day,’” she said. “He’s so full of life. That’s what I love about him. The world would be a better place if there were more Merls.”

From left, Jasmine Ellis, Merl Drey and Christine Freyermuth.
From left, Jasmine Ellis, Merl Drey and Christine Freyermuth.

During Merl’s retirement reception, Don Matson, Methodist’s vice president for Integrated Service, noted Merl’s positive attitude, his willingness to help coworkers and his “expertise” – greeting everyone he saw. He called Merl one of Methodist’s greatest ambassadors.

“You have brightened the lives of countless people,” Matson said. “You are The Meaning of Care.”

Methodist Hospital President and CEO Josie Abboud added: “It’s just not going to be the same here without you. You’re a part of our family, and you always will be.”


Merl Drey visits with former Methodist executive John Fraser.
Merl Drey visits with former Methodist executive John Fraser.
Making Friends, Touching Hearts

After studying at the Madonna School and receiving job training at ENCOR, organizations that serve people with special needs, Merl began his career at Children’s Memorial Hospital in 1974. When Children’s moved to 83rd and Dodge streets in 1981, Merl began working at Methodist Hospital. In all that time, he’s had only three unscheduled absences.

Merl said he always enjoyed his work, but his favorite part of the job was the friends he made. And he made friends with just about everyone, including former Methodist Health System executives John Estabrook, Stephen Long and John Fraser, and current President and CEO Steve Goeser.

“You’ve brought a lot of joy to a lot of people over 45 years,” Goeser said at the reception. “We can’t thank you enough.” 

Merl Drey and former Methodist executive Stephen Long around 1980.
Addressing the crowd, Merl ticked off a long list of people he’ll miss, adding, “I just love it here. I love you people.”

Among those he’ll miss is Ellis, his supervisor since 2011. She said she’s touched that she means so much to him.

“I’m very grateful to have worked with someone like Merl,” she said. “Working with someone like him got me to see the world from a different perspective. I’m very humbled and blessed to experience such a thing and work with someone as wonderful as he is.”

Members of the Drey family at Merl's retirement reception.
Members of the Drey family at Merl's retirement reception.

Bittersweet Goodbye

Merl’s big heart was on display Thursday as he greeted guests and reminisced with them. The impact he’s made on Methodist – and vice versa – was evident. 

“Merl has made a lot of great relationships,” Michael said. “We’ve been very blessed to have found a place for Merl to make a community for the past 45 years.”

After retiring, Merl plans to move in with a sister in Kearney. He hopes to visit Methodist Hospital when he’s back in Omaha to visit family. Otherwise, he doesn’t have a whole lot planned.

“I’m just going to enjoy it,” he said.

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About the Author

Patrick Smith, a content strategist for Methodist Health System, has over a decade of experience writing and editing for newspapers and other publications. He enjoys meeting new people and telling stories that highlight Methodist's mission to deliver The Meaning of Care.

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