retiree prepares for a volunteer career in the Peoria mission | Illinois News


By PHIL LUCIANO, Journal Star (Peoria)

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) – Tired of retirement, Ron Rasberry got up from the sofa and headed for the kitchen.

Not his, but South Side Mission’s.

“I just wanted to stop being lazy,” Rasberry, 71, laughs. “This sofa was killing me.”

Hoping to improve his cooking skills, he attended the South Side Mission Culinary Arts Training School. Usually, the school helps the youngest to learn a trade which leads to a job. But when Rasberry finished school, he remained at the mission, where he now volunteers five days a week in the soup kitchen, reports the Star Journal.

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The mission is grateful for their help. The lunch crowd is grateful for their vittles. And Rasberry is grateful for the service opportunity.

“I am grateful that I can donate the time to help this organization,” he says.

Rasberry – or Ras, as his friends call him – grew up in southern Peoria with seven siblings. With so many mouths to feed, their mother was waiting for occasional help in the kitchen.

“My mother raised us to learn to cook,” he says.

In 1968 he left Manual High School to join the Navy, serving in the Mediterranean Sea until 1971. He returned to Peoria and worked on the Caterpillar Inc. production line until his retirement in 2002.

Rasberry has an adult son but lives alone in South Peoria. Shortly after retiring, he began attending the Church of the Living God in northwest Peoria. A few years ago, he started preparing snacks and meals for the church’s youth program.

“I love to cook,” he says. “And I love children.”

But about four years ago, he heard about the mission culinary school. Each year, approximately 20 students graduate from the school’s 12-week programs. There is no tuition fee, although the mission interviews applicants, most of whom are between the ages of 18 and 35 and looking to change their lives with a new career.

Rasberry had no desire to re-enter the workforce. But he figured the classes would help him prepare food for his church children. Chef Chris Franzoni, who heads the mission’s culinary program, was impressed with Rasberry’s purpose – and even more impressed with his performance in the classroom.

“Ras was good,” says Franzoni. “He came here with a purpose. He has a passion, and that’s the main thing.

“He loves to cook. And he loves to serve.

Rasberry learned not only cooking skills, but healthier habits as well. He learned to do less frying and more baking. And he developed a taste for vegetables, especially cabbage.

“I thank Chef Chris for that,” he says.

After graduating, Rasberry decided to give back to the mission. Every weekday, from around 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., he pretty much runs the soup kitchen. First, he prepares the meal: one of his specialties is chicken parmesan with mashed potatoes and green beans.

“It’s a good thing,” he said.

At 11:45 am, lunch visitors begin to arrive. Following devotion from a mission staff member, Rasberry opens the kitchen doors and prepares meals for around 25 guests, mostly familiar faces.

“I like the camaraderie with the people I meet here,” he says. “These people give me the inspiration to come another day and cook another meal, just as they compliment me.”

He pauses, smiles and adds, “I don’t miss this sofa. He’ll be there when I get home.

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