As Thanksgiving approaches, with its focus on food, family, and fellowship, it seems fitting to get to know Charlie Kelso. For the past ten years, Charlie has been preparing meals for the St. Damien Parish priests. He also prepares the buffet dinners that accompany the Faith, Food, and Film events held during Advent and Lent.
“I like making food,” Charlie said as he described his weekly routine of shopping on Saturdays and preparing homemade meals in the rectory every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. During the winter, three priests are at the table. In the summer, that number swells to six or seven, and includes priests from other countries. On special occasions, he might be cooking for a visiting Bishop or Cardinal. Any picky eaters among them? Apparently not. “I can make anything I want,” Charlie said, “and they will eat it.” According to Father Michael Rush, Charlie is a “real chef” who specializes in the grill, yet is never afraid to try a new recipe.
Charlie deeply enjoys putting out the spread for the Faith, Food, and Film events. “People go to Mass, then they come over and eat and watch a movie,” he explained. “It is really fun.” He does all the shopping and works by himself in the Our Lady of Good Counsel Church hall, preparing a salad, entrée, vegetables, cookies, coffee, and tea. He said each meal takes about four hours to prepare. He has served up to 150 attendees at a time. “People especially love my baked ziti and meatballs,” he smiled.
Charlie came to St. Damien with many years of cooking experience. As the son of a pastry chef who worked at the landmark Zaberers restaurant in Egg Harbor Township, Charlie would sometimes accompany his father to work on weekends. In the kitchen, he gravitated toward the cooks and liked to watch them work. “So, when I got older, I began cooking,” he said. Charlie first worked for various casinos, and then cooked at Daniel’s Restaurant, Schooner’s Restaurant, and the Anchorage, all in Somers Point. Along the way, he picked up the nickname by which many people in the parish know him: Tuna. “It’s a nickname that a chef gave me,” he explained. “There were two Charlies in the kitchen, so he started calling me Tuna. The name stuck for thirty years. Everybody knows me by Tuna.”
When he is not cooking, Charlie serves as a sexton and maintenance man for Our Lady of Good Counsel Church. He opens up the church every weekday morning, then cleans and straightens up before setting out the bulletins and arranging the Altar for the priests. He has painted, installed blinds, and repaired chairs. He also sets up the Nativity scene and helps to decorate the church each Christmas. In fact, Charlie says yes to any task that needs doing in any of the churches. “If I can’t do it, I will find somebody who can,” he said.
Charlie lives in Somers Point with his wife of thirty-three years, Linda, and their 20-year-old son, CJ. Their 31-year-old daughter, April, is a sheriff’s officer with Atlantic County and serves in the Air Force Reserves. Their 29-year-old daughter, Shelley, is a teacher in Colorado. At home, Charlie likes to cook for the family, specializing in the grilling of chicken and ribs. He also makes spaghetti, “but my wife will jump in and make the meatballs because the kids like hers more than mine,” he confessed. “And they love her mashed potatoes. I will make the beef roast but they have to have her mashed potatoes.”
If some people know Charlie as Tuna, the priests just call him “Charlie the Great.” “He is good natured and giving,” Father Michael observed. “Nothing is too much for him to do. He is a blessing to all the priests.”