There have been a few notable deaths in the past week or so that may have gone largely unnoticed in light of other news centered around the ‘man’ whose initials are DJT. This morning, as I attempt to keep from sliding into the rabbit hole, I decided to focus on these ‘notable deaths’. (Isn’t it a bit of an alarming state when focusing on death is uplifting???)
Dorcas B. Reilly … the name may not ring a bell, but I can tell you that she has affected my life twice in the past month or so and does so several times in the course of a year! No, she wasn’t a rocket scientist or even a politician. She wasn’t a scientist, but rather an artist … a food artist. I have always said that cooking is an art, not a science, and Ms. Reilly proved that. In 1955, she was a supervisor for the Campbell Soup Company test kitchen when she invented the classic American dish of green-bean casserole.
Her recipe calls for mixing a can of cream of mushroom soup, cooked green beans, a bit of milk, soy sauce and pepper. Pop it in the oven, toss some crunchy fried onions on top, and voilà. It is the only way my family will eat canned green beans. Fresh ones, I can do awesome things with, but canned green beans are yuck any other way except in Dorcas Reilly’s green bean casserole!
In interviews over the years, Mrs. Reilly noted that the casserole’s appeal was in its simplicity.
Ms. Reilly was 92 when she died on 15 October, and is survived by her husband, Thomas H. Reilly. Mr. Reilly said his wife had grown up in a family of cooks, which spurred her love of food. Even after spending all day in a test kitchen, she would cook at home as well, experimenting and using fresh ingredients. She did make a lot of soup, Mr. Reilly said.
Mrs. Reilly left Campbell’s in 1961 to raise her children, but returned years later as a manager, a position she held until she retired in 1988. In 2002, Campbell’s donated the original recipe card for the green-bean casserole, written by Mrs. Reilly, to the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Joachim Ronneberg was a surveyor when WWII broke out. A few years later, he was a hero, the leader of an almost suicidal mission to bring down the lynchpin of Nazi Germany’s nuclear program. The SOE (Special Operations Executive) trained 23-year-old Ronneberg to lead a daring, almost suicidal mission: penetrate Norway, break into a nuclear plant, and destroy its supply of heavy water, a dangerous substance that can help create weapons-grade plutonium and fuel nuclear reactions. Britain had been tracking Nazi attempts to create a nuclear bomb throughout the war, and worried that Axis forces would use such a weapon to destroy part of Europe.
Ronneberg and his team had to wait out a brutal blizzard before they could parachute into their location. They skied to the Norsk Hydro heavy water plant in Vemork, Norway on February 28, 1943. The operation was swift and carefully calculated. Shortly after midnight, the men broke into the plant and rushed inside, ready to knock out guards with chloroform. But once inside, they found that the door their Norwegian contact was supposed to have left unlocked was impassable. Luckily, they had access to building plans supplied by a Norwegian who had designed the plant.
Ronneberg and a fellow operative made their way through a narrow cable shaft, captured a guard, set explosive devices, got out of the compound, and exploded 3,000 pounds of heavy water, the equivalent of five months of factory production. The pair skied away by cover of night. Not a single shot had been fired.
Joachim Ronneberg died at the age of 99 on 21 October.
Todd Bol didn’t keep the Nazis from getting nukes, nor did he create a recipe that would last throughout the ages, but he left a legacy, nonetheless. Todd Bol believed in the magic of books and believed that a life without books … well … just wasn’t much of a life.In 2009, Todd Bol was renovating his garage in Wisconsin when he ripped off its old wooden door. He liked the wood, though, and didn’t want to throw it out. So after staring at it for a while, he decided to use it to build a small monument to his mother, who had been a schoolteacher.He fashioned it into a replica of a schoolhouse, two feet high and two feet wide, put his mother’s books in it, and planted it on his front yard, hoping to start a little book exchange for his neighbors.
That gesture spawned what might be called the tiny library movement, leading to his founding of a nonprofit organization called Little Free Library a year later.
Since then more than 75,000 Little Free Library boxes, which blend the form of folk art with the function of a community water cooler, have popped up in all 50 states and in 88 countries.
They operate under the honor system: You take a book and sometimes you leave a book, so the content of the boxes is constantly changing. Today, the little book-sharing boxes can be found on urban street corners and at suburban malls, in cornfields, forests and lake sides, in subway stations in New York City, police precinct buildings in Los Angeles and a refugee settlement in Uganda. The Today Show established one at NBC’s headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan.
There is even a Little Free Library on the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia, for reindeer herders and their families!
Mr. Bol died on 18 October at age 62 of complications from pancreatic cancer.
Three good people whose names most of us never knew until their death. Without them, we would not have a lovely dish to take to potlucks or to serve at Thanksgiving, the end of WWII might have gone an entirely different direction, and many people might not have ever discovered the joy of a book. Just goes to show … those good people are out there, albeit often very quietly going about their good deeds. RIP Dorcas, Joachim and Todd. And thank you for your contributions to our lives.