At 95, ‘Mama Luigi’ still going strong at Chicago Heights church
BY GINGER BRASHINGER Correspondent November 28, 2012 4:02PM
Louise Low Perkins, 95, is known as “Mama Luigi” to her fellow church members at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Chicago Heights. | Supplied photo
Updated: December 30, 2012 6:05AM
Louise Low Perkins, 95, is known as “Mama Luigi” to her fellow church members at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Chicago Heights.
Although Perkins admitted she doesn’t have a drop of Italian blood in her, she’s been cooking Italian “from scratch” for the past 50 years for a good cause.
When a small group of teenagers from the church asked for her help in getting a spaghetti dinner fundraiser together to help pay for a trip to a summer conference, Perkins was not immediately on board.
“I told them to find somebody else,” Perkins said. “I couldn’t boil water.”
But when the persistent teens asked again, she found help. She talked to “an Italian cook” from Washington Junior High School in Chicago Heights, where Perkins was the school secretary.
“I learned,” Perkins said. “The Italian cook taught me to make sauce from scratch. We still do it that way.”
The spaghetti dinners have grown from a few guests at the first one in 1962 (cost $2.50 per person) to between 200 and 300 people.
The profits now go into the general church fund, Tom Ring, Perkins’ son-in-law and church elder, said, because of declining church membership. Ring said now everyone pitches in to help cook nearly 80 pounds of sauce and 50 pounds of pasta.
“Mama mia,” Perkins said with a grin. “I don’t suppose I made even 10 gallons of sauce the first time.”
Perkins was right in the thick of things until 2000, when she broke her hip, always in the kitchen stirring the sauce at the stove.
“Now I tell them how to do it,” she said. “I’d tell them ‘no’ when I saw them doing it wrong, but they’d go ahead and do as they pleased anyway.”
Perkins’ sense of humor clearly is intact and thoroughly enjoyed by those who know her well.
Her sight and hearing are diminished, but her mind is still sharp.
Ring likes to tease Perkins about her age, saying she “went to the prom with Moses,” but his respect and love for her are obvious.
“She has been, is now, and will always be my hero,” Ring said.
That goes for Ed “Skeeter” Skowronski, of Chicago Heights, too. He said Perkins has been his mentor, and he’s honored to take over her duties.
“She asked me to take her place. She’s moving on,” Skowronski said. “She’s been ‘Mama Luigi’ for many years.”
Perkins may be retiring from the kitchen, but she has no intention of cutting back on church duties. She became a commissioned lay minister at 84 and still takes those duties very seriously.
“I serve as an elder at our Communion table every Sunday morning,” she said. “I love that responsibility and will continue as long as I’m able to have a voice that works and have a memory of the words to say. I want to keep doing it.”
Perkins also writes greeting cards to church members who are ill, shut-ins or those celebrating life’s milestones.
Denise “Denny” Whiteside, the church’s new pastor of one month, agreed when Perkins said she’s in the process of “breaking in” Whiteside.
“I know that Louise is the mortar that holds this place together,” Whiteside said. “It’s very apparent that she is loved and revered by everyone.”
Asked if she’d do it all over again, Perkins said each time she put on a spaghetti dinner, “it got a little easier. I loved it from the first time I tried it. It was for the church.”