MCUSD2 file photo above from May 2020-Pictured from left to right, Bill Duey, wife Rachel and Chris Brown, vocational teacher, MHS, with the buddy bench that Brown and students constructed for Rachel and Bill who presented it to Arland D. Williams Jr. Elementary School.
Rob Stroud of the JG-TC recently published the following story highlighting the life and accomplishments of Fit-2-Serve Director Bill Duey. Here is the link to the story on the JG-TC website: https://bit.ly/3nUiepq
MATTOON — More than six years ago, Mattoon native Bill Duey planted a seed in his hometown when his Fit-2-Serve nonprofit organization began offering skills development programs for the local homeless shelter and planted a community garden.
Fit-2-Serve's efforts subsequently have grown to include food and gardening education programs for schools, intergenerational activities that connect children with the elderly, and gardening plots that are available for individual use.
Participants in these programs and others who knew Duey are now coping with a loss as Duey, 55, died overnight Friday after a lengthy hospitalization for COVID-19. Colleagues determined to carry on his community service programs
Those mourning include the Mattoon school district community, where Duey's wife, Rachel, is a (former) teacher. His nonprofit organization provides a Learn-2-Grow program for kindergarteners and a Farm-2-Table program for first-graders.
“We are overwhelmed with grief and sadness about Bill’s passing and we send our deepest sympathies and prayers to his wife, Rachel, and Bill’s family and friends," said Superintendent Tim Condron. "Bill epitomized the concept of giving and community service. He was a community leader, but much more importantly, he was a true educator of all ages."
Condron said the Fit-2-Serve director invited young children and high school interns to work together in a community garden, learning about the importance of growing food to share with others. He said Duey encouraged multi-age learning at senior living facilities, where he gathered the elderly and students to enjoy team projects and share memories. He said this also provided opportunities for social and educational growth for students beyond the classroom.
"We hope to honor Bill’s legacy by continuing his vision of creating personal and educational experiences that connect our community across all ages and honor the unique talents of each child," Condron said. "Bill’s dedication and love for his community is a lesson we can all learn from and strive to achieve. Thank you, Bill, for making our community a better place.”
Duey founded Fit-2-Serve in 2008 while working as a professor at Concordia University in Chicago. He opened a physical location in Mattoon for his nonprofit in 2014 in a former church building at 1320 Lafayette Ave. The community gardening plots started on this corner property and later grew to include a large plot on city property along South Fifth Place.
In 2019, Fit-2-Serve received a Governor's Hometown Award for its various Community Bridges programs. Duey received a Jefferson Award for community service in 2017 that honored his work with Fit-2-Serve.
Fit-2-Serve relies on participants in the AmeriCorps VISTA national service program, student interns and volunteers for staffing. Many of these helpers were out Saturday afternoon at the Fit-2-Serve building staffing a Fall Gala fundraiser, including a farmers market, that had been scheduled weeks earlier.
AmeriCorps VISTA leader Cheryl Lee said at the gala that they are determined to continue Duey's community service mission. She said he planted the seeds that have yielded a great group of board and staff members for Fit-2-Serve.
"When he saw potential in somebody, he would develop it," Lee said.
Duey also served as the pastor of Crossover Church in Mattoon. Jordan Schilling of Schilling Funeral Home said he worked closely with Duey over the years at services and always found him to be very compassionate.
"He was one of the most generous people. He took the time with people to really help them through," Schilling said, adding that Duey was just as generous with his time as a community volunteer.
Matt Frederick, who has been filling in as pastor at Crossover, said Duey worked behind the scenes to help many community members, including assisting with drug addiction recovery efforts, as he strived to be the "hands and feet of Christ." He said Duey left "big shoes to fill" at Crossover and Fit-2-Serve, but he has created a legacy that will live on in the community.
"We are going to continue to move forward. We are going to continue to work on the vision he left," Frederick said.
Rob Stroud Reporter
Rob Stroud is a reporter for the JG-TC, covering the city of Mattoon, Lake Land College, Cumberland County and areas including Oakland, Casey and Martinsville.