With a husky voice, an easy smile and greetings such as "Hey baby" and "Hey gorgeous," Bernedette Wallace tries to show kindness and spread happiness in the morning drive-thru lane at McDonald's.
Customers have responded by voting Wallace best cashier in Illinois Times' 2023 Best of Springfield Readers Poll.
"I think it's wonderful," said Wallace, 58, who worked most of her 18 years at McDonald's at 522 W. Jefferson St. in Springfield and has been stationed the past 1½ years at the restaurant at 3250 S. Sixth St. Both stores are owned by the Davis family of Taylorville.
Wallace, a Springfield mother of five grown children, 32 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, said she was thrilled to receive the honor. "That shows me that my customers appreciate me, and I appreciate them," she said.
Growing up in a working-class family, first in Mobile, Alabama, and then in Springfield, Wallace recalled her grandmother and mother always treating her kindly, even when she made a mistake.
"So it just rubbed off," she said, and she incorporated compliments with the respect and upbeat attitude she tries to show customers.
When not at work, Wallace, who is separated, said she cares for her 39-year-old son, who was paralyzed from the waist down when he was the victim of a shooting in 2022 in Springfield.
Wallace mostly works the drive-thru, taking orders and payments. She said she loves her job because McDonald's is "my place to interact with people."
Through drive-thru speakers and at the payment window, some customers will tell Wallace they came because they needed some kind words from her.
"It's good to make people happy," Wallace said. "There's so much stuff going on in this world, and it's not good, you know? So if you can give a little happiness, give it, and God will bless you."
Assistant Manager James Mitro, 33, said Wallace is "the same genuine person that she is day in and day out. The atmosphere that she brings herself is just an amazing thing to see every day."
If Wallace is off work for a few days, customers will ask if she is OK, Mitro said. After she was transferred from the Jefferson Street store to help out at the South Sixth Street location, state workers and others who frequented the Jefferson store said they missed her.
"You could see that most of the customers were disappointed by it because they missed the 'Hey baby,' the 'Hey beautiful,' 'Hey gorgeous,' 'Hey handsome,'" Mitro said. "Whatever it was, they missed it."