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Cindy Lange-Kubick: A 42-year love affair for Gigi and the golden arches

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Cindy Lange-Kubick has loved writing columns about life in her hometown since 1994. She had hoped to become a people person by now, nonetheless she would love to hear your tales of fascinating neighbors and interesting places.

Before Chicken McNuggets, there was Gigi.

Before the Happy Meal, before the McRib, before the Extra Value Meal.

Before the drive-thru transformed the dinner hour, Gigi Young was tallying up burgers and fries, wearing her blue McDonald’s polyester.

“I told my brother I wanted to get a job at McDonald's. I wanted to save to buy a car.”

Georgiana “Gigi” Gollehon signed on at the 27th and Vine McDonald’s the summer before her senior year, a Lincoln High Link working the window and staying on until they tore the place down.

“They didn’t have a dining room,” the grandmother of two says, “just a little lobby where you ordered food.”

Gigi made $1.92 an hour to start and took home $34 on her first paycheck. The hamburger came in fresh and the fish was never frozen and you had to know how to count back change.

Lincoln had just two of Ray Kroc’s golden-arched fast-food eateries in 1974, franchises run by a pair of brothers whose names Gigi can no longer recall.

Last week, they put up a sign outside window No. 1 at the 65th and O location, where the 59-year-old has spent the past 15 years: After 42 years of serving at McDonald’s, Gigi is retiring -- 5 Days remaining.

Every day they updated the sign, like the liftoff for a rocket launch: Four Days. Three Days. Two. One ...

On Friday, her final day, Gigi wasn't in her place in front of the line of hungry commuters, taking their money and passing back change and squeezing in some chitchat.

She stayed out in the dining room with the lavender balloons and the lavender sheet cake for well-wishers and the small sugar-free (lavender) cake just for Gigi (who has diabetes).

The morning coffee club stayed late to send her off, and the guys from maintenance stopped to cheer and customers from the drive-thru came inside instead, bringing cards and gifts.

Gigi hugged one of them.

Becky Group hugged her back.

“You’ve met my husband,” she said, waving a hand at the man behind her.

Gigi looks puzzled behind her black-framed glasses.

“In the car,” Mike Group says. “The passenger seat.”

Gigi laughs. “I could never see you!”

Sausage muffin, that’s what Becky usually ordered. Sometimes she had her grandkids in the car and the two women talked about the joys, if the line was stalled.

“I can get a lot of words packed in a few minutes,” says Gigi, whose school report cards always noted she talked too much in class.

Today, Gigi talks about her retirement.

“No more window,” she says. “I’m kind of nervous, I’ve worked here since I was 17.”

She talks about the old days at McDonald’s. The 10 for $1 hamburgers. “That was crazy.”

The Beanie Baby Happy Meals. “That was really crazy.”

Gigi’s favorite Happy Meal prize was Inspector Gadget. An arm in one Happy Meal, a leg in another, his head in a third.

Then she cuts short her conversation with Becky and her passenger-seat husband to take a congratulatory phone call.

“I know who you are,” she says. “Thank you, thank you.”

An old boss who moved up, Gigi says. She walks through the prep-line, showing off the spot in the back where she stood for her 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. shift five days a week.

Someone else is at her window now. And all morning long, Ceqouia Summers has been hearing the same thing: Where’s Gigi?

“We’re going to miss you, Gigi,” says manager Candice Edwards. “You’ll have to come back.”

Gigi promises she will.

Before they cut the cake, Janell Gillund makes a speech.

The operations manager for 24 company-owned McDonald’s restaurants drapes a silk banner over Gigi’s shoulder, white with red letters spelling out her future: RETIRED.

She calls Gigi a model employee and recites fun facts from the old days while everyone listens.

Gas was 55 cents a gallon in 1974.

“A pack of cigarettes was 50 cents,” Gigi adds. (Not that she smoked.)

Patty Hearst was kidnapped that year. “I remember that.”

“All in the Family” was the No. 1 TV show. “I watched it.”

“Godfather II” was No. 1 at the box office. “I’ve seen it.”

“Time in a Bottle” was a popular song. “I have that record.”

McDonald’s had its arches in 18 countries when Gigi was hired, Gillund says. Now the restaurant is in 119 countries and just sold its 15 billionth burger.

The operations manager hands Gigi a stack of cards taller than a Big Mac, tied together with ribbon. Thank you notes from customers. (Gigi gets teary).

She asks Gigi to sing the Big Mac jingle. (She does).

Then Lincoln’s longest-tenured McDonald’s employee (as far as they can tell), a woman who has eaten at McDonald’s five days a week for 42 years (she still likes everything), and has risen with the dawn just to take your order, says goodbye.

She and her husband Terry -- they met at McDonald’s -- are going to take a trip to Las Vegas in the fall when he retires from the railroad.

“If we don’t kill each other on the car ride.”

But for now, she doesn’t have any other big plans.

Except for one, says Gigi.

“I told my husband I wasn’t going to get out of bed for two years.”

In which case, maybe he'll hit the McDonald's drive-thru for her.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7218 or clangekubick@journalstar.com. On Twitter @TheRealCLK.

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Columnist

Cindy Lange-Kubick has loved writing columns about life in her hometown since 1994. She had hoped to become a people person by now, nonetheless she would love to hear your tales of fascinating neighbors and interesting places.

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