There is an unmistakable spirit of community among the residents of Osceola Avenue on the block just east of Hamline Avenue. It may not be apparent to the casual passerby, but for those who live there it’s always present.

Longtime resident Alice Murphy will attest to it. So will the neighbors who have been delivering meals to her home for the past six months. With Murphy in hospice care and her daughter Tricia helping out all the time, the neighbors wanted to do what they could. At Murphy’s request, they put together a collection of their recipes, titled Osceola Ave. Can Really Cook! Neighbors and Friends Cooking for Alice.

“The stars of this story are the cooks,” Murphy said.

osceola cooks
Margaret Todd Maitland holds the cookbook she and fellow Osceola Ave­nue residents compiled for neighbor Alice Murphy. Among the cooks were (from left) Stacey Murray, Kathleen Riley, Susan Hanson, Jane Delage, Robert Johnson and Elaine Samuelson. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Tricia said that she and her mother are not only grateful for the meals. They hope residents on other blocks will be inspired to do the same for their neighbors.

Tight-knit community began with Sam.

Any story about the community spirit  on Osceola Avenue must begin with David Samuelson. Jane Delage, who led the cooking initiative for Alice, writes about the man known as “Sam” in the forward to the cookbook:

“A very outgoing guy who brought us together for the summer Neighborhood Night Out and started the tradition of a fall chili cook-off, Sam greeted each neighbor, old and new, as a friend. Because of Sam’s genuine good will, not to mention his sense of humor, we came to know and care about each other…. He was the first to help with winter shoveling and lawn mowing, and his kindness inspired other sharing efforts—snow blowing, plant exchanges, weather alerts.”

Sam became known as the unofficial mayor of Osceola Avenue, and when he died unexpectedly last September, Delage writes, “his family was surrounded with an outpouring of grief and support. The block was closed to traffic, and we set up tables in the street for his celebration of life.”

Coming to the aid of Alice.

Late last year when Delage learned that Murphy and her daughter would appreciate some meals, she organized the neighbors. “I spoke to a few neighbors directly for the initial effort,” Delage said. “Then when it looked like something more formal and long-lasting was needed, I contacted people on our block email list. We had developed the list as part of our National Night Out efforts and mostly used it for snowplowing alerts. When Sam died, I used it to coordinate efforts to support his family, and I used it when another neighbor died and one had a stroke.”

Bob Johnson and his family were among those on the receiving end of that kindness. A month after Sam’s death, “our 53-year-old son died,” Johnson said. “The block responded with so much generosity and kindness that we were stunned.” When Johnson heard about the need for meals for Murphy, he signed up as one of the cooks.

“When I moved to Osceola, I hit the lottery,” Craig Cox said. “In the first 24 hours of being here, I had deliveries of cakes and cookies and more welcomes than I could have imagined.”

From the beginning, Murphy’s caregivers would hear her talk about how good all of the meals were. Soon they began to ask about recipes and maybe even a collection of recipes. Murphy mentioned to her neighbors that she would like a cookbook for her caregivers.

“The idea percolated among the cooks for a while,” said neighbor Margaret Todd Maitland. “I knew it would take a bit of work to actually make a book. I decided to get the ball rolling by offering to collect whatever recipes people submitted. I also decided that the project would only go forward if others stepped up for the subsequent tasks. To my surprise, at every point when we needed a volunteer, someone with the necessary skills turned up—editing, designing pages, proofing, making format decisions, cover art, checking out printing options.”

Among the cooks who helped put the cookbook together was Craig Cox, who moved to Osceola Avenue in 2020. Cox grew up nearby, but lived outside of Saint Paul most of his life. “When I moved to Osceola, I hit the lottery,” he said. “In the first 24 hours of being here, I had deliveries of cakes and cookies and more welcomes than I could have imagined. The moment I moved in, it became clear I’d moved to a really incredible block.”

‘Magical thread’ running through this process.

“There has been a magical thread running through this very organic process,” Maitland said. “The cooking and the cookbook began in a spirit of good will and affection, not as a conscious project to improve the world.” However, she added, she will forever be inspired by Murphy’s entry in the cookbook’s forward:

“To the great cooks of Osceola, thank you. You have continued to make my life an adventure.”

“I’m planning on making the rest of my life an adventure,” Maitland said. “The gifts of this project seem to spread in all directions.”

To give credit where credit is due, cookbook editors Delage, Maitland and Cox said, neighbors Susan Hudson and Kathleen Riley served as proofreaders for the collection and Murphy’s grandson Samuel Kullander created the cover art. Contributing recipes were neighbors Mary Losure, Stacey Murray, Kathleen Riley, Elaine Samuelson and even Murphy. All involved helped with publishing expenses.

“Alice has been a wonderful spitfire of a neighbor, and we’ll miss her deeply when she leaves us,” Murray said. “We’re grateful to live in a neighborhood of such caring people.”

“It has truly been a labor of love,” Hudson said.

— Anne Murphy

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