McDonald’s Coworkers Host Reunion Half a Century Later

This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

A group of former McDonald’s workers went back to their old restaurant in Missouri for a “Class of 1975” reunion to mark nearly 50 years since they worked together.

Nineteen former workers returned to the restaurant in Hazelwood, eastern Missouri, in March, with some traveling in from Arkansas, Florida, Ohio, and Tennessee, Joan Elhoffer, one of former McDonald’s workers who helped organize the reunion, told Business Insider over email.

“I was reminiscing with a few friends earlier this year about how special it is that we’ve all kept in touch over five decades – and decided we were overdue for a celebration,” Elhoffer said. “We had celebrated a 10-year reunion long ago and we did a 40-year reunion 10 years ago, but we wanted to do it even bigger for the 50.”

Some of the attendees brought in old photos and their McDonald’s softball jerseys, Elhoffer said. They ate together, spoke to the restaurant’s current workers, and even signed yearbooks they’d made for the occasion.

Including those who work for franchises, McDonald’s is one of the largest employers in the U.S., and says that one in eight Americans has worked at the chain. Its network of over 40,000 corporate and franchise restaurants globally has more than 2 million workers.

In October 2023, McDonald’s celebrated its claim that over 12% of people in the US have worked at the fast-food giant by hosting a lavish party and highlighting notable former crew members, like Michelin-starred chefs, astronauts, and Peloton instructors.

Courtesy of McDonald’s via BI

Elhoffer was 16 when she started working at the Hazelwood restaurant, she told BI. Most of the other former workers who attended the reunion were aged between 16 and 19 when they started there, with many continuing with their jobs throughout high school and while attending local colleges, she said.

“For almost all of us, this was our first job,” Elhoffer said.

They became close friends while working at the restaurant, Elhoffer said, with some of them playing on the restaurant’s softball team. She said “several” of them — herself included — met their spouses while working at McDonald’s.

A group of former McDonald's workers gather in a restaurant for a reunion

Courtesy of McDonald’s via BI

“There is such a strong sense of family and friends within this group,” Elhoffer told BI. “We went to each other’s school dances, weddings, and parents’ funerals. We raised our children together, celebrated holidays, vacationed together, and continued for 50 years to enjoy strong friendships.”

Elhoffer said that she started her career at McDonald’s by managing the grill area. She was later promoted to second assistant manager in 1978. She went on to attend Hamburger University, and McDonald’s training school, and become a store manager.

Elhoffer said she bought her first restaurant in 1991. She now owns seven McDonald’s restaurants around St Louis. Seven of the 19 people at the reunion went on to become franchisees, while the others pursued different career paths, such as becoming teachers and accountants, she said.

A table decorated with photos of former McDonald's workers and 70s items

Courtesy of McDonald’s via BI

The biggest change since she started working at McDonald’s has been the introduction of drive-thrus, Elhoffer said. She added that when she first started at the chain, orders had to be rung up by hand, and workers needed to manually add tax.