We were privileged to host a virtual Wealth Summit event last evening that featured nationally known baker and philanthropist, Chet Fery, also known affectionately as The Bread Man. We were so touched by Chet’s sharing of his own background and how he transformed a retirement pastime of baking loaves of bread into an incredible community building source of kindness and goodwill. In this issue of Wealth Notes we want to share just one story from among his many hundreds of random acts of kindness.
A few years ago Chet crossed paths with the daughter of one of his favorite high school teachers from Bishop Ryan High School in Buffalo, New York, Elmoe Drilling. At that time Chet was nearly 60, so he was pleasantly surprised to learn that Mr. Drilling was still alive and living in a local retirement home. He shared with her his fond memories of her dad and how fortunate he and so many other students had been to have Mr. Drilling as a teacher – how much he encouraged his students and provided sound advice. Clearly pleased, his daughter shared how much her father would appreciate Chet visiting him adding that his long term memory was pretty good and that it might help her dad if Chet was to bring his high school yearbook.
Chet agreed and began thinking back to his high school days and to Mr. Drilling. Built like a football lineman and always wearing a herringbone suit jacket with closely cropped hair, Mr. Drilling was a math teacher and coached football and baseball. During the basketball season he worked the stat book and the time clock. Like many of his colleagues, duties extended beyond the teaching day and school year. Chet recalled that he worked summers striping parking lots. He was committed to his work and willingly accepted less pay working in a parochial school because he believed in what he was doing. He was a no nonsense type of guy but also knew how to laugh and share a story. Chet shared how he boosted students’ confidence when needed and provided direction when necessary. Both his teaching and his coaching were always well planned and on time. Football practice ran like clockwork but he always took the time to point out exceptional play or use that “teachable moment.” Mr. Drilling was all class. You never had to worry about being “dressed down.” He showed respect and he was given respect in return.
Chet planned his visit by hunting down his high school memory box, pulling from it his yearbook, letter sweater, and a few newspaper articles. He also spent time searching doing his own memory walk through high school which allowed him to remember many of the traits of Mr. Drilling shared above.
On the appointed day, Chet packed up his memorabilia bag along with a few loaves of honey wheat bread and headed to Buffalo. His daughter had told him to expect a visitor and when he arrived Coach Drilling was sitting tall in his chair, showing a warm smile and drinking a cup of coffee.
They talked about how Bishop Ryan High School was a very special place and regretted that it closed in 1973. They leafed through the 1968 yearbook and Coach beamed with pride. He recalled many of the students from over 40 years ago and grieved the death of some of his colleagues. Mr. Drilling’s room displayed many memories of his teaching and coaching career. He showed great pride in pointing out the pictures of his loving family. Even in these later years, he was gracious, positive and a perfect gentleman, just as Chet remembered him.
After a pleasant conversation, Chet shared, “I want you to know that you were a great teacher and I appreciate everything you did for me. You were my role model and the best example of what every teacher should be.” As expected, he acknowledged but minimized Chet’s comments in a humbling way. He stated, “Bishop Ryan High School was a special place with exceptional people.” He shared how pleased he was that Chet had come by and thanked him for the bread.
Chet to this day can’t say for sure if Mr. Drilling remembered him, but that was of little concern. This man had shared his life with thousands of students and Chet was so thankful he had had this opportunity to see him again and thank him for all he had done for so many.
What a beautiful story. And what a great reminder that saying thanks to those who have been a positive influence in our life is so important. Coach Drilling died a few years later and Chet is so glad he made that visit. In this time of Covid, there are so many older people confined to their homes. Who are some of those people who made a difference in your life? Pick up the phone and chat with them or visit them if possible. You’ll be so glad you did – and so will they.
An attitude of gratitude is one of the secrets to living a life of greatness and to making the story of one’s life complete and joy filled. Live with gratitude.
Oh and one more thing…Chet’s Honey Wheat Bread will forever be Mr. Drillings bread.
This WealthNotes article was written by Matt Palmer, Founder and Chairman