Friendship Village

Harry Funk/The Almanac

Team member Princess Connelly joins residents Ted Cook and Sally Randall for #EatTogether day at Friendship Village of South Hills.

One of the southernmost nations in Africa is Botswana, and Bethel Park resident Princess Connelly was happy to talk with the folks at her lunch table about her native country.

“I was just telling them about how we call things differently here and back home,” she said, and that took some getting used to when she started her job serving food.

“The person who was showing me around and training me, there was a time when we had to get dessert for a table, and this lady wanted Jell-O. In my head, I was like, what the heck is Jell-O?” she recalled. “She shows me what Jell-O is. And we don’t call it Jell-O. We call it jelly.”

In turn, Connelly asked: “What is jelly to you?”

“And she comes out with jam,” Connelly said.

Food served as appropriate topic for the latest #EatTogether day at Friendship Village of South Hills, the Upper St. Clair retirement community at which Connelly is a team member and where she delighted fellow diners with stories of how speaking English still can manage to get lost in the translation.

Based on a popular activity that originated in Canada, the #EatTogether campaign encourages people who might not know one another well, or not at all, to sit down and break bread.

Or, to use what they call bread in Botswana, sit down and break biscuits.

“We pass each other in the halls. We know a little about each other, but not much,” said Bill Engel, Friendship Village director of sales. “So you get together. You hear a little bit about people’s backgrounds, where they came from, what they did for a living.”

In resident John Redfield’s case, he worked for 39 years at Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory in West Mifflin. He and his wife, Susan, raised their children in Bethel Park after moving to the area from western Ohio.

“I used to root for the Cincinnati Reds,” he told his tablemates. “But when we got here, Pittsburgh won the World Series, and we became Pirate fans for life.”

That’s been since 1960, for better or worse.

And it turns out, he and Engel have a mutual acquaintance from Bettis.

“I was in the hotel business, and he used to do a ‘state of the lab’ dinner where I worked,” Engel said. “He’d bring 500 people for three nights.”

It also turns out Redfield eats lunch monthly at Al’s Café in Bethel Park with the gentleman and other Bettis retirees.

For #EatTogether lunches at Friendship Village feature family-style table setups to accommodate eight or so people, with staff members joining residents and family members they choose to invite for plenty of conversation and getting to know one another.

The idea came from the 2017 video that launched the #EatTogether campaign, as shared by the corporate office of Lifespace, Friendship Village’s parent company, with all 12 of its communities. In Upper St. Clair, director of culinary services Jaimie Cherok and director of lifestyle Kelly Michel decided to give it a try last summer.

At this June’s #EatTogether, a resident with quite the sense of humor introduced himself as:

“Teodoro Cocinero. In your language, Ted Cook.”

A Connecticut native, Cook said he moved to Pittsburgh with his family in 1948 and started his career with Mellon Bank, working his way up to vice president. And it just got better from there.

“Westinghouse called one day and said they wanted me to do a seminar. That’s what I did at the time. I was running seminars,” he recalled. “I forgot where they sent me. It was halfway across the country. And the next thing I know, they hired me. A guy handed me a three-by-five card with a number on it. He said, ‘Here’s your starting salary next Monday.’ I said, ‘I’m not looking for a job.’

“Then I looked at the number.”

Receiving the proverbial offer he couldn’t refuse, Cook made the move and worked for Westinghouse until he retired. He has lived at Friendship Village for 12-plus years.

And in keeping with the theme of the community’s special get-together, he proclaimed what he likes to do best these days:

“Eat.”

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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