By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
CLINTON — There is regular, unleaded, and then there is mom’s apple pie.
Father Steve Cook and 13 riders for Cycling for Change got some of the super-premium high-octane fuel at a luncheon at Father Cook’s home parish of Holy Rosary.
And the melt-in-mouth dessert, not one but two pies, came courtesy of Father Cook’s mother, Ginnie.
“They weren’t the best because I’m having trouble with my oven,” Mrs. Cook said.
Nonsense, said her son.
“She makes excellent pies,” Father Cook said, adding that her world’s greatest apple pies are only the tip of the iceberg. “Her lemon and peach are the best.”
Pie is a longstanding tradition between Mrs. Cook and the 13th of Ginnie and Bob Cook’s 15 children. And they also come up in Father Cook’s homilies as pastor of St. Peter Parish in Kansas City.
“I told this story on Holy Thursday,” he told The Catholic Key.
“She made me angel food cake for my birthday, and I didn’t like angel food so I told her,” Father Cook said.
“The next year, she didn’t make me a cake at all. She made me pie,” he said.
Mrs. Cook continues to make a pie every time she has enough advance notice, like on June 9, that her son will be coming home to visit.
“Mom always overcooks when she has family,” said Karen Tualls, Father Cook’s sister who also arranged the luncheon as president of the parish’s Altar Society.
“There is always a pie for Steve. We’re all special to her, but Steve is extra special,” Tualls said.
“Why do you think?” she said.
Proud of their family priest before, the pride grew even stronger when Father Cook chose to lead the 500-mile, seven-day Cycling for Change bike tour of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph to raise awareness of poverty as part of Catholic Charities’ national campaign to cut poverty in half within 10 years.
Three members of this year’s Cycling for Change team were also part of the three-month 5,000-mile tour last year that crossed the United States diagonally from Washington state to the Florida Keys.
John Stigers, of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Kansas City, rode last year shortly after surgery. This year, he said, he’s really dragging.
“My problem this year is that I didn’t train enough,” he said. “This year’s team is a strong bunch of riders. Father Steve has really impressed me. He hasn’t been riding that long.”
This year’s ride began in Kansas City, then moved north to St. Joseph and Maryville, then south and east to Lake Viking, Richmond, Warrensburg, Clinton and Harrisonville before the final leg June 10 at the Catholic Center in Kansas City.
Stigers said he had to go on this year’s ride for a simple reason.
“Poverty hasn’t gotten any better,” he said. “It will take a cooperative effort of government, church and business. If we all work together, we can solve this problem. But if we keep fighting, it will continue.”
Ditto, said Karl Shafer, also a St. Francis Xavier parishioner, and a veteran of both Cycling for Change rides.
“It’s something I feel passionate about,” he said. “Hopefully, more and more people will get involved. And seeing the country from the saddle of a bike is a privilege.”
Jeremy Ruzich, who last year needed stitches to close a gash on his chin as Cycling for Change rolled into Kansas City, is unscathed this year.
“It (the ride) wears you out physically every day,” he said. “But the more you get involved, the more you want to get involved.”
Ruzich said he is riding to spread Jesus’ word.
“The basis of this cause is the main call of the Gospel — to serve the least of the people,” he said.
Other riders joined this year because they could make a one-week commitment instead of last year’s three-month tour.
“I couldn’t do it last year, but when I found out it was one week this year, that’s doable,” said Dave Schmidt, a St. Peter parishioner.
“Anything that brings guys like you (reporters) out to ask questions is good,” he said. “If five people read your story and learn something about poverty in America, and that causes them to learn more and help somebody out, then it’s worth it.”
“It’s important to get people to pay attention to poverty,” said Bernie Schneider of St. Peter Parish. “If riding 500 miles will help, I’m all for it.”
As their bodies get a workout, so do their spirits, said John Errante. Father Cook not only leads the pack, he also celebrates daily Mass for the riders and leads Bible reflection.
“Every day we have a focus on a different aspect of the Bible,” Errante said. “You have a lot of time to think and pray on a bike.”
Other riders making the ride to Clinton were: Sam Swearngin, St. Peter Parish; David Butel, St. Thomas More Parish; Steve O’Neill and Tom Dillon, Visitation Parish; Stu Bitner, St. Elizabeth Parish; Barry Underwood, St. Bartholomew in Windsor, and Jaytee Townsend, Blessed Sacrament Parish in Kansas City, Kan.