By Larry Kisielewski
Erie Times-News photo by Christopher Millette
What’s your idea of fun? Screaming your lungs out on the Ravine Flyer? Laughing your head off at Jr.s? Singing your heart out at karaoke? How about fixing a nice pasta dinner for 600 marathoners? That’s the idea of fun for our November GTKY subject.
People may know her as the pasta lady, the cheesecake lady, or maybe even the wine lady. But she is much more than any of those. I would like you to meet Linda Huegel.
Born in Sewickley, PA some 70 years ago, Linda Kluz spent her first five years in the Pittsburgh area. When parents Ted and Jane moved north and bought a grocery store, Linda, her sister and two brothers all became Erie-ites. This was before Title IX, of course, and Linda, like most females at that time, had no athletic aspirations. She graduated from Strong Vincent High School and married at 19. Her husband’s grad school took them back to Pittsburgh for five years, and then a job in Meadville was five more. By the time they returned to Erie, their five children were also in tow. Daughter Ann and sons Steven, Christopher, Matthew and Carl were bright, spirited children whose intro to athletics was Linda leading them in calisthenics she had picked up by watching Jack LaLanne on TV. Evidently something stuck because they’ve all gone on to successful careers across the country with aerobics, baseball, wrestling, football, swimming, and triathlons a major part of their lives.
Linda’s first marriage wasn’t as successful, and she and her first husband divorced in the mid 1970’s. With no job prospects on the horizon, Linda tapped into an unfulfilled passion she’d always had: cooking. Utilizing the Erie Public Library system, Linda became a chef. The kids helped out as waiters, busboys, dishwashers and such as she started her own successful catering business. Eventually, she also became the chief cook at Villa grade school, and at Methodist Towers after that. After working for others for years, she now restricts her professional services to private, 7-course gourmet meals for up to 40 people in her home.
And what a home! After her divorce, she met and married John Huegel in 1976. They reside in a 200-year-old home (circa 1795) on nine acres of farmland. In addition to Linda’s five children, John’s three, and their son Alex, they raised horses, beef cattle, turkeys, ducks and chickens – a veritable “Little House on the Prairie.”
John is now retired, Linda only does her private banquets, and they have been animal-free for 15 years, a concession to their extensive travel. They’ve spent four winters in Spain, one winter in Galveston, two in Florida, driven cross country twice, and visited Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico, New England, Nova Scotia, and Canada, just to name a few stops. Their house is finally remodeled to suit them, and they’ve cut back on their huge garden, which is till big enough to keep them self-sufficient with canned provisions. John’s specialty – Delaware wine – along with his award-winning beer and his sunshine cherry cordials are always welcomed at (un-named) events! They’ve curtailed their annual Labor Day picnic after 15 years, when the guest list swelled past the 70-plus mark.
Although their lives have been simplified in recent years, you still can’t call the Huegels stay-at-homes. Beside their travel, Linda and John volunteer at races every chance they get. Just the cooking services she provides would fill a resume sheet. The afore-mentioned ERC marathon dinner started in 2005 when Linda first cooked the pre-race dinner. She bought three base-camp stoves from Sam’s Club for that one. Since then, the dinner has grown to more than 600 served, requiring three additional stoves. Imagine 250 pounds of spaghetti and rigatoni, 50 pounds of ground beef, 100 heads of lettuce, 60 bags of romaine, eight bags of spring mix, a bushel of tomatoes, meat and sausage, marinara and clam sauces, bread and an acre of cake. The ERC is truly blessed to have such a talented and dedicated member.
In addition to the marathon, in past years, Linda was the cheesecake lady, starting modestly enough with 4-5 cakes for the post-race festivities at the Moonshine Shuffle before ballooning to 35 or more before the race was discontinued. She was the soup lady for five years for the Homeless Soles Halloween run and has served as ERC vice-president and as a board member. She has volunteered at least once for every ERC event.
All of this overshadows her own athletic accomplishments. Contenting herself at first with the Jack LaLanne program, she didn’t run her first race until age 48. That was the 1989 Erie Day 10K, and the seed was planted. She has run “too many to count” 5Ks and 10Ks. A marathon at age 58 was the first of seven. She has second-place age group finishes in the prestigious Pittsburgh and Cincinnati marathons, a first in the Erie marathon, and has conquered God’s Country. Issues with her back curtailed her running around age 67, and she now maintains her classy chassis with long walks and elliptical workouts.
She is truly a top-shelf lady with further chapters to be written. Now you know Linda Huegel.
Dream vacation – France (cooking)
Hobby – certified tailor, just for her own pleasure. She sewed her daughter’s wedding gown, and tuxedos for the boys. She has an embroidery machine and has done the ERC mile-marker flags.
Hobby (2) – photography
Music – jazz
TV – none
Reading – mysteries, history, novels
Favorite websites – cooking, running, political
Motto – Anything worth doing is worth doing well.
Admires – Hilary Clinton
Greatest accomplishment – raised great kids!
Charities – Juvenile Diabetes, City Mission, Kanzius
Most famous people met – Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter, Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright
Sports teams – Pittsburgh Pirates, Erie SeaWolves
Pet peeves – people who say they’ll do something but don’t
Cool vehicle – 1960 Triumph TR-3 sports car
Cool vehicle (2) – after selling their horses, the one-horse open sleigh became a cool lawn ornament!
Getting To Know You is reprinted from the November 2013 Erie Runners Club newsletter.