Geneseo's Hepner named ISBE School Nutrition Champion

Geneseo Community Unit School District #228 is excited to announce that Michele Hepner has been named the 2024 School Nutrition Champion by the Illinois State Board of Education’s Nutrition Department.

Hepner, the district’s Food Service Director since 2008, was nominated by Superintendent Dr. Adam Brumbaugh with several of her colleagues submitting testimonials.

“Michele works tirelessly for our students, staff, and the district, and she is extremely deserving of this award,” said Brumbaugh. “She is the treasurer of the local food cooperative, having previously served as its chair, and hosts the monthly meetings for the 15 districts in the cooperative. She also organizes the meetings and training for all food service personnel.”

Brumbaugh added, “Michele is always willing to jump in and help at any building at any time. Throughout the year, she works hard to make lunchtime special for all students and staff.”

Hepner was born and raised in the Kewanee area, and she graduated from Illinois State University, where she studied foods and nutrition. Her interest in the field was a product of her upbringing.

“I grew up in 4-H and always enjoyed doing food demonstrations,” says Hepner. “I lived on a farm and helped with a lot of gardening and cooking–things that I learned from my mom, who was a homemaker. It all really resonated with me.”

While attending ISU, Hepner envisioned a career working in restaurants. However, one day while working as a nanny, a friend told her about an ad in the newspaper that Kewanee’s school district was looking for help running its food service program.

“I figured I’d try it, I got the position, and the rest is history, as they say,” says Hepner, who spent five years working for Kewanee schools before coming to Geneseo.

As Food Service Director overseeing five buildings–Geneseo High School, Geneseo Middle School, Northside Elementary, Millikin Elementary and Southwest Elementary–Hepner is tasked with ensuring that the district’s kitchens and lunchrooms comply with the numerous and ever-changing federal, state and local regulations.

She spends most of her days at the unit office in an administrative role, but she’s quick to help out at one of the schools if the food service team is short-staffed.

“We have a great staff and they do a lot of the hard, labor-intensive work at the schools,” Hepner explains. “I couldn’t do what I do without each and every one of them. They deserve a big pat on the back as well.”

Hepner adds, “Staffing can sometimes be an issue, whether it’s an open position or workers who are out sick. We do have subs, but sometimes people are not available so on occasion, I’ll go to a school to help serve or run a truck. I don’t think that I should ask anyone else to do something I’m not willing to do myself. I like to step in and help when I can.”

If you ask Hepner about her favorite part of the job, it’s that every day is different.

“There are always challenges to overcome,” says Hepner.  “The USDA is constantly changing and upgrading regulations, so we’re always learning. It’s a job where there is something new every day. I really enjoy being able to help the little kids.”

Being named the 2024 ISBE School Nutrition Champion was a surprise for Hepner, but one that she is grateful to receive.

“It’s an honor and was totally unexpected,” says Hepner. “It’s nice to be recognized for the work you do.”


  • Left of the sign: Misti Olson (behind in sunglasses), Amy Koscik (also pictured above), Kelly Bjorkman. Kristi Eilers (in front)

  • Right of the sign: Bonnie Myers (behind everyone), Michele Hepner, Sandy Skelton, Kathy Young

  • Sitting left to right: Wendi Jordan, Amber Decker, Raschel Stout


“Michele is a great listener and when problems arise, she tries to resolve them in the best outcome for all involved. She is willing to jump in and help in any role, whether that is driving our delivery truck or filling in at a school.”

– Bonnie Myers, Geneseo Middle School

“Michele worked as the manager at one of our grade schools for almost half the year in addition to serving as our food service director. She truly enjoys the hands-on aspects of the job and being around the students.”

– Bonnie Myers, Geneseo Middle School

“During COVID, Michele worked with administration to accomplish a food delivery plan so students could get meals. It was a major undertaking and she worked so well with the managers to ensure that all students who wanted meals received them. She also made sure that employees who were willing to work were able to keep their hours.”

– Bonnie Myers, Geneseo Middle School

“Michele works hard to help make our ideas come to life. She tries to help us find ways to give the students new and creative options for breakfast and lunch. She allows us the room to be creative and have input into our menus. Michele is passionate about what she does not only for our district but for the Illinois School Nutrition Association and legislative actions as well. She is very supportive of our district and always happy to help others.”

– Kathy Young, Geneseo High School 

“Through all the years, Michelle has always strived to improve. She has done that by being very active and always learning. She also helps all of us improve and ensures the schools are serving the best quality and a wide variety of food. Michele has gone into the classroom and taught students about what it takes for a balanced meal and even let them help build our menu for a month. She does not hesitate to get out of the office and fill in where needed in each building, and we really appreciate that.”

– Misti Olson, Northside Elementary