Eau Claire (WQOW) – September’s Jefferson Award winner is helping the community one meal at a time.
Everett Tillung cooks for thousands of people in Eau Claire from the hungry to the elderly. His long career crafting culinary creations began in the Army in 1961 with simplest of dishes.
"They said, ‘How would you like to make a salad for the mess meal?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it’," Tillung said.
His prowess with the knife landed him on food service, cooking for officers in Korea. After a short stint as a civilian, he returned to the kitchen in the Army Reserves, spending 19 years serving those who serve.
"I always told my troops, there are two things you always have to really enjoy: your pay and your food," he said. The Army brass enjoyed that food so much, they awarded him the Meritorious Service Medal. He said, "Usually the Meritory Service Ribbon goes to the guys who fly planes, generals — I’m in food service. Why would they want to give it to me?"
There are plenty of local organizations that know the reason. "A lot of people will come to me because they know I will do a good meal," Tillung said.
He plans and executes a meal a week for 9 months at Peace Lutheran, cooks once a month at the Community Table, handles big meals at the Masonic Temple and is the head chef for big events at the L.E. Phillips Senior Center.
"My wife thinks I should start saying no," Tillung laughed, "But I can’t. I have a love for people, and people know this and know that I will follow through and get it done."
Tillung’s generosity is not contained to the kitchen. During a service trip to Mexico, he helped build a home for a small family. After seeing the conditions they lived in, Everett arranged to send a package full of food, once a month for the past six years.
"I enjoy doing this because they have nothing, and I have so much, so I’ve got to share," Tillung said.
Even at 81, Tillung does not plan to hang up his apron any time soon because for him, the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach. "Doing food for people, you get a smile out of them. That’s gratifying to me," he said.
Despite working in kitchens all over the country, there is one place Tillung said he leaves alone. He said he does not touch his wife’s kitchen because she is such a good cook. He saves his talents for big meals.
If you know of a volunteer making a difference in your community, fill out a Jefferson Awards nomination form.