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Server at Hagerstown's Woodpoint Grill knows her 'wonderful' customers

April 08, 2008|By JANET HEIM

HAGERSTOWN -- Paula Piper is a study in motion behind the bar at Woodpoint Grill, where she's worked almost half of her life. She knows the food and drink orders of regular customers, their favorite seats and sets up ahead before some even walk through the door.

"How are you, Babycake?" Piper said as a steady customer took his seat.

Piper, 66, started working in January 1976 for owner Ned South, who bought the business in 1955. After his death, his two sons, Doug and Keith South, took over the business.

They are Piper's current bosses.

"I feel like they put me in the middle and built around me," said Piper, who has been there longer than any other employee.

Piper got her start as a server at her aunt's restaurant in Plainfield, N.J., when she was 14. She loved the interaction with people then, and still does all these years later.

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She was out of high school when her father took a job with Mack Trucks and moved the family to Hagerstown. Piper, who is divorced, raised four children on her own.

She lived on Washington Avenue with her children, then moved above Woodpoint Grill with only her two youngest at home. Piper points to the booth where her two youngest children used to sleep when she worked nights.

"Gotta do what you gotta do," Piper said.

While Piper has listened to a lot of her customers' troubles over the years, she said they've rallied around her when she needed help, too.

She was devastated when her brother, Bobby Ronneberg, died on Christmas Eve 2001. He had epilepsy and fell during a seizure, which led to his death. Afterward, she learned she was named guardian of his daughter.

Then, in February 2002, Piper's mother died.

Piper said she'll never forget how her customers helped her through that difficult time.

Piper is also known as the "Bracelet Lady" because of the jangle of silver bracelets she wears. The first five were given to her as a child after her grandmother's death in Germany.

She's worn them ever since and said she's never bought a bracelet. The others have been gifts from customers who bring them back from their travels or give them to her for birthdays or Christmas.

"Yes, I have wonderful customers," Piper said.

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