When Leo Kellner lost his wife after 72 years of marriage, he felt empty. So, he started baking.
The 98-year-old resident of Hastings, Nebraska recently told NTV News Nebraska that he baked 144 apple pies the year after his wife Madelon died in 2012. The year after that, he began making cakes as well. “After I lost my wife I didn’t know what to do. So I said, ‘Well I can bake,’ so I started baking,” Kellner said. “Everything I do, I do it with love. That’s my secret ingredient is love.”
As a young man growing up on his parents’ farm in Dimock, S.D., Leo Kellner got a taste of what it was like to go without.
Watching the family farm reduced to dust by some of the most extreme drought conditions in U.S. history during the 1930s, he soon found the once-ample treats prepared and served by his mother, Mary, scratched from the family menu.
It was all his father, Eony, aka Tony, could do to keep his family of seven from starving when he took on a new career as a brick and cement layer, using skills taught to him by his missionary father.
“We hardly had nothing,” Kellner said. “I made up my mind if I ever could, I would help people, do good things for people, because I knew what it was to be poor.”
Fast forward to the present, where, for more than three years, the 97-year-old has found a way to bring back those treats that disappeared from the family dinner table during the disastrous dust bowl era.
Drawing from skills passed on by his mother when times were good, Kellner puts his aging confection oven to good use almost daily, baking homemade cakes and pies from the same home he has occupied in Hastings for more than 62 years.
He enjoys making chocolate, yellow and angel food cake and says he’s even made a wedding cake, though he would prefer not to. Kellner also has a special, sugar-free pie for people who are diabetic. Everything he makes he gives away for free ― whether it’s for a funeral at his church, hospice workers who used to help his wife, or family and friends in his congregation.
“They’re pretty darn good, they really are,” Kellner’s pastor, Rev. Michael Houlihan of St. Michael’s Church told the Tribune. “Every time we have a funeral here, he has one brought over. And every time one of us goes over there he gives us one. He’s always been that way.”
He added, “Some look inward, he looks outward. If you say ‘hi’ to him, he’ll probably give you a pie.”
As for Kellner, baking helps him keep busy and puts a smile on people’s faces.
“I try to help everybody I can,” he told the Tribune. “It makes me feel happy. God left me here for a reason and this is why I think he did.”
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