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Hanging up the apron, spatula

After 52 years at the grill, Edith “Toot” Wolfenbarger hung her apron and spatula up for the last time at the Frostee Freeze in Tazewell.

Her official retirement party was Saturday, and the popular restaurant was packed with people wanting to say goodbye. Once word got out she was retiring, patrons stopped in when they could to wish her well.

“She knows it’s the right time,” said her daughter, Scarlet Wolfenbarger. “It will be an adjustment, but she needs to slow down.”

Toot is 75 years old and has, in addition to Scarlet, three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Two of her grandchildren, David Hayes and Morgan Jobson, were able to celebrate with her Saturday while granddaughter Lindsay Kirkland had three of Toot’s great-grandchildren at egg hunts and church activities.

The Frostee Freeze has been Scarlet’s second family as well. Toot began work there in February 52 years ago and had Scarlet two months later.

“She said that she won’t be cooking anymore now,” Scarlet said with a laugh. “She’s told people she’s going to let me do all the cooking. She needs to just enjoy life now.”

In all her years at the Frostee Freeze, Toot was never late, Scarlet added. If she was scheduled to begin work at 4 p.m. she wanted to be there at 3 p.m. or a little after, and wouldn’t clock in until her scheduled time.

“It’s just the way she is, and she’s always done that,” Scarlet said.

Toot has been a valuable employee to the Frostee Freeze in many ways.

“Toot is going to be missed,” said co-owner Beth Selvey. “She knows everyone’s grandparents, parents and kids. To my generation, and a couple before, she has been the only one people have known to cook the Frostee burgers. We definitely have big shoes to fill.”

Among the people who were on hand to say ‘happy retirement’ to Toot was Mike Williams, who has represented Claiborne County as both a state representative and state senator and is now Union County mayor.

“I’ve been coming up here for over 40 years,” he said. “My grandmother ran a restaurant and she cooked food similar to what the Frostee Freeze has. My grandmother was a great cook, but I would put a Frostee Freeze burger right up there. It’s always reminded me of my grandmother’s cooking.

“Toot put her heart and soul into this place for so long. That’s what makes it so special and so much like family. We don’t have enough of that in this world anymore.”