Students seeking advice on how to cope with a loved one’s death, how to advance far in Dixie Idol or how to make a mean salad should look no further than Red Rock Café.
BernNadette “MZBEE” Jefimoff, a faculty member who works in Dixie State University’s Red Rock Café, braved both Chicago’s harsh winters as a youth and the prison system’s psychological stranglehold as an officer post-grad. She said St. George is where she’s meant to live despite the numerous professional and physical moves made in her life and that students can arrive at their desired destination if, like her, they show a bit of faith.
Jefimoff’s first major life transition happened when she moved from her hometown, Chicago, to Arizona after receiving her bachelor’s in psychology from Roosevelt University. Braving the frigid Midwest finally proved too much, so she embarked southbound, landing jobs in halfway house management and eventually an officer position in the prison system, she said.
Prison’s environment — which she immersed herself in for a year before seeking other avenues — was one of the first times faith’s influence kept her life steady and positive, she said.
“I had to depend on God just to keep my self-control under control,” Jefimoff said. “It changes your whole personality. I knew that I loved life and God too much to change … I escaped as fast as I could.”
And Jefimoff’s need for spirituality never wavered after time spent interacting with inmates — particularly when her husband, Alexander Jefimoff, died of cancer.
When Jefimoff relays anecdotes, it’s a mixture of how faith and a bit of humor got her through life’s trials; telling of her husband’s death was no different.
“After he died, I looked down at him and said, ‘How dare you die on me,’ and I kicked him,” she said.
Music follows God and humor in Jefimoff’s story.
While in Arizona, Jefimoff sang at various events; she participated in a vocal competition at Opryland USA during a stint in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1995, winning first place out of 111 contestants, she said.
Jefimoff’s talent is no secret to the DSU community after she finished runner-up in Dixie Idol last week.
Lauren Randall, Dixie Idol winner and a senior psychology major from Upland, California, said Jefimoff kept the competition interesting, and as the field of contestants narrowed, her and Jefimoff helped each other with constructive feedback — Jefimoff, of course, not deliberating about whether to give wisdom about life also.
“She never hesitated to drop some wisdom on me whenever there was a chance,” Randall said. “Performing with MZBEE was fun throughout the rounds, as she always kept things light, sassy and soulful. I was grateful to sing alongside her.”
But before Jefimoff could exhibit her vocal prowess on the Gardner Center living room stage, she needed a reason to call St. George home. She said visits with The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints missionaries in Williamsboro, North Carolina — another pit stop — in 2007 built upon her religious foundation as she fell in love with the church’s doctrine.
Jefimoff said she researched Utah’s dominant faith for four years before her baptism in 2011. She calls herself a ”full-time participant” of the teachings of the church, and unsure about her future in Austin (yes, she lived there too), Jefimoff turned to old reliable again: God.
Through prayer and an interest in the LDS Church’s first temple, she finally arrived to St. George in spring 2014. St. George’s pull, she said, was forceful.
“It’s a smaller city, a little Mayberry like Andy Griffith and Barney Fife, and there’s a temple there and a university there,” Jefimoff said she thought. “And if you go there, you might even be an asset to someone.”
Now, Jefimoff — having background in food service from her stint in North Carolina — makes salads in Red Rock Café and works Fridays at the St. George Temple. She said she’s unsure of her future, but making students’ days with her faith-driven guidance and delicious salads is a solid start.
“Don’t forget, if the salads are really good, I made them,” she said. “If they’re not, see God.”