For 25 years, Francis Lavon Summers (“Von”) has been delivering meals with a friendly smile...
By Debbie Metz, Nutrition Director
For 25 years, Francis Lavon Summers (“Von”) has been delivering meals with a friendly smile to our Meals on Wheels (MOWS) participants!
We met for our interview, both wearing masks, sitting 6 feet apart, him wearing his black Oregon state Beavers mask, and his Lion’s Club hat. I ask, “Why have you volunteered for so long, Von?” He smiles and responds quickly, “I do it because I love meeting all the people and hearing their stories!”
Von started delivering MOWS in 1995. When he started, there were only three people on his delivery route. Now, there are more than ten times that many! Von initially decided to volunteer for MOWS through his Lions Club affiliation. He’s been a member for 30 years and is currently the Lions Club MOWS coordinator. The Lions Club MOWS volunteers have donated precious time to deliver meals to our community participants in the Coupeville area, from Libby Road to the Greenbank Store.
Von grew up in the late ‘20s – ‘40s, and their family struggled to make ends meet. His father moved the family from Missouri to Portland, Oregon, in the early ’40s and worked very hard, modeling an unsurpassed work ethic which Von admired and emulated all his life. Von enjoyed school and dreamed of being a football coach because he loved the game and comradery. He was the team captain in his senior year.
His dreams were interrupted when he went into the military in WWII. After the war, he went to Oregon State University, and he became the president of his fraternity and a leader for life. People are drawn to Von with his quit wit, gentleness, and kindness. Von likes to cook, but mostly likes to eat, so he pursued a career in food science/food technology. He added, “my favorite breakfast is biscuits and gravy, and my all-time favorite food is home-style fried chicken, fried in a deep-dish fry pan.”
Von was the first in his family to graduate from college. After graduating, he became a part-time manager at a food company. One of the first things the owner asked him to do was to fire a man just because he said, “Von, you need experience firing people.” Von was devastated. The man had a family and depended on the job to put food on the table. Von refused his boss firmly, at the risk of getting fired himself, to save that employee’s life-sustaining job. The man wasn’t fired, and neither was Von. Lesson learned he said, “Follow your gut and do the right thing!”
Later he worked at USDA as an inspector. I was so surprised because I, too, worked at USDA as an inspector for a while while I was in college. We both were hired by the same head office in Yakima!
Von was President of the Food Technology Institute for many years. He also worked with the Air Force in Food Service during the Korean war and for Townhouse, Bel Air frozen foods developing high-quality frozen meals. He’s friends with the creators of Tater Tots!
When I first met Von at the ISR CamBey Meal Site in the late ‘90s, I was touched and inspired by his smile that reaches down to his belly and up through his eyes. Von started asking so many questions about me, not just what my job was, but he was interested in me as a person and my life, and we became close instantly. He is such a supportive and caring person. And that’s why he has volunteered for so long; he cares deeply about people! He has become so attached to the MOWS participants, “They need us; we’re often the only ones they see in a day, and they depend on us.” I don’t know what they would do without the meal deliveries and a personal connection since they are so isolated, especially now with the pandemic.” He adds, “I’ve lived a long time and have never seen anything like this, and we need to do as much as we can to stay connected with our loved ones.”
Von has a loving family and says he is very blessed. He showed me a recent picture of his children and grandchildren and said they are the richness in his life. He said it was tough when he lost his wife, Betsy, about seven years ago. He pauses, “We were a great team for 62 years!” He has two sons, Von and Ross, and two daughters Joel Lee and Robin, and he adores the whole family.
As our interview comes to a close, Von says, “Thanks to all the volunteers and the staff I have had the pleasure to work with; it is a great group!”
We are fortunate that he is part of our ISR MOW family. We are thrilled he is with us and eternally grateful for his 25 years of unconditional love and service.
Thank you Von Summers, we love you!