Family, friends and coworkers of longtime Lompoc Valley Medical Center employee Lori Cornejo Morris surprised her with a drive-by parade in honor of her retirement. Lori recently retired, and due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the hospital is not yet able to formally honor her with a celebration.

Lori, a 36-year-employee, has worked in the Dietary Services department for her entire career, delivering meals to patients.

She was moved to tears by the unexpected parade.

"I thought it was awesome. It really was," said the second-generation Lompoc native.

Though she had a long and busy career, Lori had a less than stellar first day of employment.

“I didn’t show up,” she recalled, laughing. “I thought it was the next day.”

Luckily, her boss was understanding, and Lori began working the following day. In the late 1980s, the dietary department was located inside a large modular trailer on the back dock of the former hospital on C Street. The new Hickory Street Café was still being constructed.

Lori said it wasn’t necessarily being in a kitchen or around food that attracted her to the job.

“I’m a people person,” she said. “What I really liked was that I learned so much. I regret I didn’t go to college. But I learned so much from the dietitians. It made me feel good that everyone got what they needed (in their meals).”

Throughout the many years she worked at the hospital, Lori would encounter former patients out and about in Lompoc.

“I could tell you what room they were in, what their diet was, what they liked to eat,” said Lori, a 1977 graduate of Lompoc High School. “I don’t remember the date I started work, but I remember their diets.”

Part of her duties included preparing inpatient drinks, desserts and tracking dietary changes. She made sure all the production for meals was accomplished, and at one time was responsible for making all the salads. She also washed dishes

early in her career. She usually was up at 4 a.m. every morning, and at work at 5:30 am. Her daughter Candance remembers being a little girl and visiting her mom in the kitchen. The staff would keep her entertained and give her treats.

Because Lori enjoys being around people, she liked that her job didn’t keep her confined to one area. At times, she thought about transferring to an office job because of the toll the kitchen work had on her body. But she never did so.

“I was around that hospital and all the different departments. I met so many people and I’ve seen how hard they work.” At one time, a workplace injury kept her out of the kitchen, but she became a temporary patient attendant in the Emergency Department, keeping an eye on patients with psychiatric concerns.

“I saw so much compassion from the nurses,” she recalls.

She stayed so long with LVMC, she said, “because of the fulfillment I had. Everyone was happy with the meals and diets.”