YORK, Pa. (AP) — Donna Shellenberger has waited tables for 50 years.
"She's been around for so long, they were gonna name York after her," teases customer John Hagerman, 78, of Dover Township.
But "Shelly," as she's often called, just plays along.
The 71-year-old, rife with comebacks, says she came with the building -- the Route 30 home of Round the Clock Diner and Coffee Shop that opened as Howard Johnson's on Oct. 7, 1963.
"I came in a UPS box in the back door and never left," she laughed.
And no one ever asked her to.
She isn't the kind of employee you toss out like stale French toast.
"She's a tough cookie," said Liviu Hotea, the restaurant's manager. "She is on time, all the time. I never have a complaint."
As a youngster, Shellenberger wasn't sure what she wanted to do with her life. She tried a factory job, but it didn't suit her personality.
After two months, the boss cut her loose.
"They told me they were paying me more than I was putting out," she said.
In 1963, Shelly's mother-in-law, who worked at another Howard Johnson's in York, told the then 21-year-old to apply for a server position at the new location in Manchester Township.
The rest is history.
"I had an inkling I wanted to make it to 50," she said. "I thought, 'If I can do it, I'm going to do it.'"
Today, Shelly is known for her green sweater, button-down shirt and bow tie. For decades, a loyal following of has clamored to sit in her section.
They know her schedule.
Four days a week, she starts at 4:30 a.m. Three of the days she ends at 11. The fourth, she ends at 1 p.m.
"All of my customers — this whole crowd — is practically like family," she said.
Among the group, Ann Carter's family has been coming to the restaurant since before it became Round the Clock in 1993.
"The chemistry is just right between us," Carter said. "She's such a good waitress. She's always pleasant."
A few weeks ago, Carter's son was visiting from Minnesota.
Even though he only sees Shelly once a year, she remembered.
He likes corned beef hash, eggs over easy, an English muffin, orange juice and a coffee.
"She's an extended family member," Carter said, marveling at her waitress and friend's ability to make everyone feel special.
"Imagine dealing with the public for 50 years," Carter added. "I couldn't handle that. God love her."
But Shellenberger doesn't mind.
Everyone makes mistakes — even her.
There was that time she tripped over the owner, Dimos Sacarellos, and launched an entire tray of food across the coffee shop.
You live and learn.
"Be nice to your customers, listen if they have a complaint," Shellenberger said. "Don't argue with them. There are times you'd like to, but you don't."
Showing up on time is a duty Shellenberger also takes seriously.
Last June, she had open heart surgery.
She came back eight weeks later.
Another time, she felt tingling in her arm.
She headed to the hospital, where doctors kept her overnight.
It was the last time -- and only time -- she can remember calling off work.
It wasn't without a fight.
"They wouldn't give me back my clothes," she said. "I could have come in here with one of those night gowns and my butt out."
For now, Shellenberger shows no sign of retirement. Waiting tables keeps her busy, she said.
She refills the coffee, clears the dishes, and teases with the "Old Farts Club," a group of 70-something men that meet at Round the Clock the first Friday of every month.
"Am I fast?" she asks, bringing Dee and Bob Stough their usual breakfasts
"If you're this fast at your age," Bob Stough said, "I would have hated to be around when you were young."
Information from: York Daily Record, http://www.ydr.com