Community comes in many forms: parades, high school football games, music festivals. Today, I celebrate the community of Marge’s Donut Den.
I was down there this morning for the 40th anniversary of this beautifully bustling place on 28th Street SW in Wyoming. And there she was, Marge Wilson, the amazing woman who started this whole thing, smiling and surrounded by her loving customers.
A dance band was playing in the corner. A clown was making balloon animals for the kids. Customers were wolfing down donuts and coffee at 45 cents a pop – her original prices from 1975 – as well as a breakfast of eggs, hash browns and meat for whatever you wanted to contribute.
And there stood Marge, basking in the joy of the moment, grateful to God for her success in turning a humble donut shop into a community living room.
“Be Kind, Be Good,” reads a message above the doorway, and Marge is certainly that. Just ask the families who line up on Saturday mornings for boxfuls of donuts or custom wedding cakes. Or the young man she befriended in jail and now employs in the kitchen. Or the people in Nigerian villages who are drinking fresh water thanks to her Samuel Omogo Foundation.
As usual, people hugged her right and left. Also as usual, she introduced me to everyone she could, including the Rev. Peter Omogo, brother of Samuel Omogo, who died at age 47. Father Peter had conducted Mass that morning, in the bakery’s new reception room decorated with Paul Collins paintings. Now he was dancing to the band with Marge, and grinning ear-to-ear.
Marge and I go back a ways. I wrote about her Donut Den back in 1986, when I was a rookie reporter at The Grand Rapids Press. I was impressed immediately with her industry and generosity.
We reconnected in 2013 thanks to Anthony Torrone, whose book, “Anthony’s Prayers,” I edited along with Pat Shellenbarger, with photos provided by Lance Wynn. After Marge heard about the book, she contacted me and said she wanted to buy 500 copies to give away to customers. It was a joyous day when Anthony brought them to her and signed copies.
Since then, Marge has also bought and sold many copies of my book, “Faith on First: Thoughts on God, Nature and Sacrifice Bunts.” She proudly tells customers that my column about her and Anthony is on page 12, then has me sign it for them.
It is not often one finds a collection of essays about spirituality and baseball on a donut counter. But in Marge’s community living room, neither Anthony’s book nor mine seems out of place.
I am grateful for the support and encouragement Marge has given me. So are the many people who have been touched by her kindness and goodness the last 40 years. The glazed donuts and apple fritters are what gets them in the door; Marge’s spirit is what brings them back.
It is thanks to people like her that we find community in this hard world. And boy do we need it, especially after the dark tragedy in Charleston this week.
“Bad things will come and go, but the truth remains,” loyal customer George Nobel told me, alluding to the church shooting. “This” — gesturing now to Marge’s crowd — “this is the truth.”
On this bright Saturday morning, Marge’s Donut Den was a true place of blessing. And my apple fritter was scrumptious.