Courtesy Diner has nothing on Peggy Winckowski’s waffles.
At least, that’s what Winckowski’s grandson Sam Crowe and his friends told her. Last year, Sam and a handful of friends from Bishop DuBourg High School would frequently grab breakfast at the diner or QuikTrip before DuBourg’s late starts on Wednesday mornings.
“They told me, ‘Grandma, Courtesy’s got nothing on you.’ So I said, next week, why don’t you come to my house, and we’ll have breakfast here?” Winckowski — or Grandma Peggy, as she’s known — said. “Then, when they were all leaving, they were like, ‘Grandma, what are we having for breakfast next week?’”
The “breakfast club” continues this year, but with a deeply felt absence: Sam was killed in an accident in July when the moped he was riding was struck by another vehicle.
In the days and weeks after Sam’s funeral, Winckowski’s home remained a welcoming place for Sam’s friends to gather. When the school year started back up, “They asked me, ‘Grandma Peggy, are we still going to have breakfast club?’ And I told them, ‘I will feed you if you come,’” she said.
A community comes together
By 5 a.m. every Wednesday, Winckowski is in her kitchen, getting out her waffle iron, cooking pans and enough breakfast food to feed a small army — or, rather, 15-25 hungry teenagers.
On Nov. 16, it was eight pounds of bacon. Twenty-four eggs. Cinnamon roll waffles, cooked in the waffle iron and piled high onto a large baking sheet to stay warm in the oven. Bananas, apples and grapes; jugs of chocolate milk and Sunny D. “It is worth every minute. It fills my heart,” Winckowski said.
A little after 7 a.m., the teenagers start to trickle in. The breakfast club’s ranks have expanded this year to include even more Bishop DuBourg students and some of Sam’s friends from Notre Dame High School.
That morning was Owen Reynolds’ 17th birthday. Owen, a Bishop DuBourg junior and Sam’s cousin, was one of the original members of the breakfast club. Continuing the tradition this year has been important to him, he said.
“It’s nice having everyone around. We tell stories (about Sam), and it makes it easier to deal with,” he said.
Bishop DuBourg student Maddie Ruggeri is attending the breakfast club this year. “It makes me feel close to him, since he’s not here anymore,” she said. “This is something he enjoyed doing, so it’s nice that we can do it now for him.”
Sam’s friends remember him as an outgoing teen who would befriend anyone. Even now, his memory is connecting people and creating new friendships among the Bishop DuBourg and Notre Dame teens, said Annie Hall, a Notre Dame student.
“Breakfast club brought us all together, so we can get through it together,” Annie said. “Being around everyone helps us all.”
Being together every week “helps me because I feel like it helps Grandma Peggy,” said Olivia Gagen, another DuBourg student. Gagen’s grandmother passed away about a year ago, so “it feels like Grandma Peggy is another grandma for me, and I’m another grandchild for her.”
Sam’s mother, Kim Dengler, and her twin sister, Kerri Reynolds — Owen’s mother — each live just a few houses away from Winckowski.
“I love it, all of them together, talking about Sam,” Reynolds said. “In his short time, the impact he’s made on our lives and their lives — it’s sad, but it’s heartwarming, too. They all tell jokes, and they keep their bonds together.”
For Reynolds, seeing Winckowski bring the teens together is no surprise. “Grandma Peggy is helping all of them stay close and helping them make memories they’ll keep forever,” she said. “She did that for me and my sister and our friends when we were young — she’s just doing the same thing she’s always done.”
Word about the breakfast club has gotten around the community. Winckowski and her daughters are Bishop DuBourg alums themselves, classes of 1975 and 1996, respectively, and the outpouring of love from fellow Cavaliers has been incredible, she said.
“People are so generous. I have former classmates and other people asking me, ‘Can I Venmo you some money, from one Cavalier to another?’” she said. On a recent trip to Schnucks, someone recognized Winckowski’s bracelet with Sam’s initials and immediately bought her a $50 gift card for supplies — she’d heard about Grandma Peggy’s breakfasts.
“How important is that, to have that community?” Winckowski said.
‘We have to have our faith’
Along with breakfast and conversation, faith holds the group together. Since All Souls Day fell on a Wednesday this year, the breakfast club went to Mass that morning at St. Stephen Protomartyr Church, where Winckowski and her daughters and grandchildren are parishioners, to pray for and remember Sam. In Winckowski’s front yard is “Sam’s Garden,” a plot created after Sam’s passing with a statue of Mary, a small banner with Sam’s picture and several flowering plants gifted by neighbors. Before or after breakfast, Winckowski and the students gather around the garden to say a prayer together.
“We have to have our faith,” Winckowski said. “We think about how lucky we are to still be here. Sam got to the golden gates before us — and I know that’s what we’re all supposed to do. The ultimate goal is to get to heaven.”
Before the students head off to school, they huddle up each week in front of the house to take a group photo. That’s been a tradition from the start; one of the first group photos, with Sam in the middle, sits on a window ledge above the dining room table.
A few Notre Dame girls lingered a little while longer after many of the students departed. They stood around the kitchen island, catching Winckowski up on everything going on in their lives. One girl’s date recently canceled on her for the upcoming winter dance, and she wasn’t sure who to ask now. “Sam would’ve gone with you,” Winckowski said, and they all smiled.
The girls hugged Winckowski, one by one, as they made their way out the door and down the front steps. “Bye. Love you, Grandma Peggy,” they said as they dispersed.
“You all be careful, and drive slow,” she called after.