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Week of August 15, 2011

Staff Spotlight

Laundry Services veteran cooks a mean spaghetti sauce

Mary Bagwell likes to keep it simple, on the job as a laundry feeder folder, and when practicing her love for cooking at home.

To perform well at her job, Bagwell says, “You have to make sure it’s clean, and stay busy and keep working until you get it done.”

Photo by Eric Bronson, U-M Photo Services.

And at home in her kitchen, “I like more home-style cooking than fancy cooking, like meats and potatoes; just everyday foods instead of fancy dishes like crepes or fancy seafood dishes,” she says.

At the U-M Health System Laundry Services building on North Campus, Bagwell spends most of a recent morning pressing gleaming white doctors’ lab coats in a traditional dry cleaner’s press, before hanging them on metal hangers. One might also find her reaching into knee-high bins filled with clean hospital gowns. “I fold it in half and fold it in half again,” she says, before placing the gown on a short conveyor leading to a machine that completes the folding process.

“We fold diapers by hand, we do the scrubs by hand and sort them; they’re color-coded so we can see the sizes readily. A lot of the baby stuff gets folded by hand because it’s so small,” Bagwell says.

Laundry Services processed 8.5 million pounds of linen, sheets, blankets, gowns towels and patient apparel for the growing Health System in FY 2011. Sometimes the work spills over to Saturdays.

Bagwell grew up in Appleton, N.Y. In high school she worked in food services at the local hospital. “I started doing dishes and pots and pans, and worked my way up to be night cook and supervisor. I just liked cooking,” Bagwell says. She earned an associate’s degree in occupational services at the nearby State University of New York Agricultural and Technical College. “I learned food service cooking for hotel cafeterias,” she says.

After moving to Greenville, S.C., Bagwell married and son Thomas was born. She took a job with Dixie, a restaurant within the Michelin tire plant. When an incident in the plant forced officials to ask that 1,600-1,800 staff members be served hours earlier than expected, she impressed her boss by being prepared enough to be able to successfully serve all the workers. Bagwell’s husband later was transferred to Ann Arbor, where she began working for Laundry Services.

Bagwell’s coworkers get a taste of her culinary skills when she brings carrot cake to work. “You put cinnamon, nutmeg and spices into your flour mixture; I usually do cream cheese icing,” she says. “I add confectionery sugar and a little vanilla and a little milk to thin it so it’s spreadable.”

“I like to cook chicken casseroles and chicken fricassee. I do a lot of lasagna, a lot of Italian spaghetti. I had an aunt who told me the secrets for making her own spaghetti sauce. You add a little bit of sugar or a little bit of mint to take out the bitterness. You cook it down to a thick paste or a thin paste, depending on how you like your sauce. I never use the store-bought kind,” Bagwell says.

Besides cooking, Bagwell, now divorced, takes care of animals including her Yorkshire terrier, Nugget, and cats Sam and T. She enjoys 10-15 mile bike rides and long walks while reading a book, and pursues projects to upgrade her Ypsilanti home.

The weekly Spotlight features staff members at the university. To nominate a candidate, please contact the Record staff at



Mary Bagwell, laundry feeder folder, U-M Health System Laundry Services, on the key to great spaghetti: “You add a little bit of sugar or a little bit of mint to take out the bitterness.”


William Faulkner’s Artifacts of Authorship exhibit, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, Special Collections Library

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