In many ways, Vince Crupi was the cafeteria at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre. He started working in the kitchen at McKellar Hospital in 1986 and continued as chef when the two hospitals moved to the new facility in 2004. His easy-going personality was as distinctive as his cooking – people at the hospital loved him for his smile and his wave as much as they did his culinary creations.
“Vince was a really nice, down-to-earth kind of guy,” said Cathy Sawicki, Nutrition and Food Service Supervisor at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre. “At the same time, he held us to a very high standard in the kitchen. We have our recipes that we follow, but Vince would always add to them and make them uniquely his own.”
Cathy talked about one time when they were making meatballs for a spaghetti fundraiser for the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation, and he insisted on a particular type of olive oil. It wasn’t for the meatballs themselves, but to cover the surfaces during preparation.
“He was very passionate about cooking, and he took great pride in what he made,” Cathy said.
So when Vince passed away in September 2017, the 100 or so employees who work in food services wanted to memorialize him. They were torn between a bench and a student bursary. But thanks to the outpouring of employees as well as hundreds of others who visited the cafeteria every day, they were able to do both. Maria Bell and Betty Annala worked with Cathy to get the word out and collected the many donations in memory of Vince.
Mary Nucci helped tremendously as well, coordinating the celebration ceremony with the family, making arrangements with Harbourview Funeral Service who donated the pastries for the celebration, and encouraging people to donate.
“The response was overwhelming. Vince was such an important part of the cafeteria – such an important part of a lot of people’s day. Lots of people who knew Vince contributed,” Cathy said. Francesco Pedulla at Sunset Memorial Gardens donated the bench’s plaque – handmade specially in Italy. “The bench is a nice tribute to Vince, and I think it touched his family to see how important he was to us.”
Marina Crupi, Vince’s wife, said that the whole family felt overwhelmed during the presentation of the bench and the scholarship announcement.
“We knew people liked him, but to see how many people donated to his bench and those scholarships, some of them anonymously… the kids and I were honoured with their kindness,” Marina said.
She said he would be overjoyed to know there is a bench in the cafeteria where he spent so much of his life. “Vince loved his job. He loved cooking, and he loved pleasing people. He would always have a smile on his face.”
Marina works in the forensics lab at the Hospital, so she sees the bench regularly. “I pass it whenever I come out for a coffee. When you go by, it almost feels like he’s there, smiling down.”
The bench was unveiled to a packed house on March 28 at the east windows of the cafeteria where he had worked for so many years. Two scholarships of $250 would be made available to students in the Culinary Management program at Confederation College.
“Vince would have been thrilled to know he is helping someone who has a passion for cooking,” Marina said.