A simple note can make a world of difference. That’s the heartening lesson Philly native Michele Recupido learned this week.
Thanks to a letter she wrote, Bensalem’s Redhouse Bagels has started donating proceeds from the sale of a popular breakfast sandwich to Alzheimer’s research and will also collect donations in a jar on the counter, potentially helping the 5.5 million Americans struggling to live with the dementia disease.
Recupido, the longtime manager of Center City tavern Locust Rendezvous, originally didn’t want to go public with her story. But the chance to spread the word about something good changed her mind.
“The power of the written word is amazing,” she said. “This story shows there’s kindness in the world — I want it to be told.”
On Wednesday morning, Recupido received a phone call that made her nearly fall over in fear.
“They’re looking for Walt!” a friend told her excitedly, recounting a segment she’d just seen on 6 ABC.
Walt’s Sunday ritual
Walt is Walt Skibiszewski, Recupido’s husband, a 78-year-old suffering from Alzheimer’s. Recupido had just last week made the decision to enter him into Memory Care, so when she heard her friend’s words, her first worry was that he’d gone missing from the assisted living facility.
But no. Walt was safe. The people looking for him were the owners of Redhouse Bagels, who were hoping to discover his identity to thank him — but knew nothing about him except his first name.
Walt was a longtime Redhouse customer. Stopping by the shop after attending Sunday Mass at St. Katherine of Siena in Torresdale was one of his traditions.
He used to do it himself, while she went out for coffee with her women friends, Recupido said, but in recent years she’d started accompanying him to make sure he got through the morning ritual safely.
Even as his condition worsened, “I still wanted him to be as independent as possible,” Recupido explained.
To that end, a few months ago she created a laminated card with his standard order — a pork roll, egg and cheese on a plain bagel — that Walt would silently hand over to the workers behind the counter.
The employees would glance at the card, smile, ask his name (which he sometimes managed to pronounce, Recupido said), make the sandwich and hand it over. It was short, simple transaction, with few flourishes — but it made an impact.
“They always treated him with such respect,” Recupido recalled, noting that in many situations when the Alzheimer’s became obvious, that wasn’t the case.
“And these are just kids, teenagers, you know?” she said. “We write off young people these days, but these kids should go home and thank their parents for raising them right.”
A simple note
To express her gratitude, Recupido wrote a thank you note, signed it “Walt’s Wife,” and slipped a $100 bill inside. Last Sunday, the first week Walt would miss his breakfast pitstop because he was in Memory Care, she went to Redhouse on her own. She stood in line anonymously, then slipped the envelope onto the counter and left.
“I really thought that would be the end of it,” Recupido said.
It was not the end, however. Because just as the Redhouse employees’ actions had touched Recupido, so did her note affect Rich and Shannon Redhouse, owners of the 20-year-old shop. They posted a photo of the letter on Facebook, and it garnered a huge response.
Within a day, commenters had started a hashtag campaign to #FindWalt and get him another sandwich.
News of the search reached Alicia Vitarelli at 6ABC, who covered the story on the local news. And then Recupido’s phone began blowing up.
“Is that your Walt?” asked friends who’d gotten to know Walt over his and Recupido’s 30 years of marriage. “That’s you they’re talking about, right?”
It wasn’t until she got a call from Rob Loper of care services company Visiting Angels that she decided to come forward. “My friend Rich Redhouse is looking for you,” Loper told her. “He’s a good guy, you should reach out.”
Recupido decided to step up. “I realized it’s not about me,” she said. “It’s about my husband, who’s the sweetest man, such a nice, nice guy.”
She made contact with the Redhouses, who decided to memorialize her husband by naming their pork roll, egg and cheese on a plain bagel after him, and also to donate a portion of The Walt sales to Alzheimer’s research.
On Sunday, Recupido and the Redhouses will meet in person to thank each other for bringing more kindness into the world.
“The comments on the Facebook page made me realize the disease is affecting so many people,” Recupido said. “I hope this story helps people realize it’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”