Vickroy: Coffee comes with compassion, companions for man with MD
DONNA VICKROY email@example.com | (708) 633-5982 June 29, 2012 7:58PM
With his cane draped over a chair Nick Ricci (right), who has multiple schlerosis, sits at his regular seat at Dunkin Donuts in Oak Lawn, Illinois, Thursday, June 28, 2012. Steve Shoup, of Chicago, (left) visits with Ricci who has gone daily for 18 years to this Dunkin Donuts and someone always takes the four or five minutes to hold him steady to get him into his seat. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 2, 2012 6:06AM
They call him the Dunkin’ Donuts greeter.
For more than 30 years, Nick Ricci has been patronizing the Chicago Ridge coffee and doughnut shop on 95th Street just west of Ridgeland Avenue. He’s been a daily fixture there since 1995.
“As soon as I pull into the parking lot, they put my coffee and bagel on the counter,” Ricci said.
His breakfast in sight, Ricci begins the arduous task of getting out of his car and into the store. The early morning ritual can take 20 minutes, and Ricci can’t do it alone.
Fortunately, help is always at the ready.
Ricci, 58, has muscular dystrophy, a progressive condition that makes it difficult for him to stand or walk. He needs help getting from a sitting position to his feet. He needs more help walking and opening doors.
Not a problem. The Oak Lawn resident has befriended so many Dunkin’ Donuts customers over the years that many wait in their cars for him to pull up, just so they can help him to his table. If no one is available when he arrives, manager Amin Ali sends a worker out to assist.
Steve Shoup met Ricci while he was still with the Chicago Police Department. Shoup and other Chicago and Oak Lawn officers would gather at the shop for a quick cup of coffee and a brief reconnect.
“Nick and I struck up a conversation and ended up becoming good friends,” said Shoup, who retired in January. “Now I come here in the mornings and sit with him.”
So do Tom Schmidt and Leslie Vanderwarren, both of Oak Lawn. They call Vanderwarren the “Crossword Puzzle Queen” because of her ability to quickly fill in the blanks in the newspaper, seemingly undistracted by Ricci’s and Shoup’s teasing.
Schmidt is a relatively new friend.
“I was in here one morning and Nick asked me to help him stand up,” Schmidt said. “We’ve been friends since.”
Ricci met Oak Lawn firefighter Jim McGeever in a similar moment of need. Ricci had fallen in his home and couldn’t get up. He called the fire department from his cell. The next day when McGeever stopped at the Dunkin’ Donuts, Ricci was there to greet him.
Another time, Ricci fell in his laundry room and got wedged between the washer the dryer. The fire department came to his rescue again.
“That’s what we do,” McGeever said, shrugging. “I think he really wanted us to do some laundry.”
Each morning, the friends who gather at Ricci’s table catch up, banter and solve the problems of the world.
“I’d be nothing without my wonderful personality,” Ricci said.
On the weekends, things really heat up. Ricci’s twin brother, Rick, joins the mix. It’s not unusual for eight or nine people to gather at the table.
Ali loves the group’s dependability.
“Regular customers are my best priority,” he said. “I want to keep them happy.”
Ali has been at the shop for 13 years.
“Every day, Nick is here. Now his friends are here, too. The circle gets bigger,” he said. “It is my pleasure to have them hang here and talk.”
Every now and then, someone parks in the handicapped spot out front or someone sits at Nick’s table, the one near the pole he needs to balance himself when standing.
“I just ask them to move and they always do,” he said.
Sometimes Ricci rides his scooter to the shop.
“I keep telling Oak Lawn police that I’m trying to set off the red-light camera with it,” he said, chuckling. Shoup recently added a piece of Velcro to the handle, creating “cruise control.”
Ricci grew up in Orland Park and graduated from Sandburg High School in 1972. He was diagnosed in 1978, two years after he was married.
Now divorced, Ricci lives with his two daughters, Diana Gillett and Adrienne Ricci.
His father suffered from the same condition. Slowly, the disease has robbed Ricci of his ability to elevate his arms and hoist himself from a seated position. Eventually, he will be totally dependent on a wheelchair.
For now, though, he enjoys being as mobile as possible, often offering to drive people to the doctor, the airport or even home from work.
“One thing I can do is drive,” he said. “Sometimes, I just sit in my car and relax. It’s more comfortable than a lawn chair.”
Tim and Sharon Falsey, of Oak Lawn, met Ricci a few years ago.
“He’s a fixture at that table,” Tim said, “always smiling, always greeting people, a good guy.”