Shirley DiRenzo: A cook you would welcome into your kitchen

Renee Ann Smith —  August 19, 2010 — 16 Comments

O taste and see that the Lord is good!

For as long as I’ve known her, Shirley DiRenzo has been feeding people. My first experience at her dinner table was about thirty-three years ago when my older sister Marcia let me tag along to an evening with new friends, Shirley and Tony. At sixteen, I was shy and awkward, wary of new situations. Tony and Shirley immediately disarmed me with their contagious good humor and warm welcome. I believe Shirley served stuffed shells with homemade sauce on the side, and I cleaned my plate . . . twice.

Shirley, a petite bundle of energy with a sunny smile, is a Maine native. She met New Yorker Tony in college. They married in 1973 and moved to Germantown, New York, near Tony’s family. Good friends Joan and Bill Andrews witnessed to Tony and Shirley and encouraged them to attend a Bible study taught by Morgan Jones. Every week after study, they stayed late, plying their host Cal Lynk and his son Jeff with questions about the Scriptures, faith, salvation.

Eventually, Tony and Shirley each responded to the call of the Holy Spirit to confess sin and accept Christ. Then the young couple joined Clermont Bible Church, threw themselves into ministry, and never looked back.

They began working with the church youth group. The first weekend youth retreat I ever attended was Tony and Shirley’s first, also. And Shirley was pregnant with her first child.

Soon Tony was teaching a teen Bible study. In those days before seatbelt laws, he would load up his little car with teens—two in a seat, on each other’s laps, hanging out the windows—and make his way to Valatie, about thirty minutes north of Germantown. (According to legend, only once did a teenager fall out of the car, and he sustained no injuries.) Tony showed a thorough grasp of Scripture and patiently answered questions for the group who gathered each Monday night.

The DiRenzo house became a hang-out for some of us teens. We would spend the night, babysit their kids, absorb their attention. And they always fed us. Dinner might be homemade pizza, spaghetti with clam sauce, or cereal. No matter how little they had, the DiRenzos shared with everyone God brought into their lives.

Young Tony today

Tony and Shirley worked with youth for twelve years and, along the way, gave birth to three kids of their own, young Tony, Tara, and Joe. A lifestyle of hospitality was reflected in their oldest son’s first words. While still in his highchair, the happy toddler would lisp to the many people who showed up at the door, “C’mon in. Stay to supper?”

After youth work, Tony became an elder of the church, and Shirley concentrated on women’s ministry. She could make any gathering into an occasion. Once she “crowned” the woman who’d been teaching junior church Queen for a Day and held a party in her honor. Valentine’s Day became a time for Shirley to share her blessings. She would purchase gourmet chocolates for friends who no longer had husbands to fuss over them. She often hosted dinners for the entire church, just another effort to make us feel like family.

Though Shirley knew her way around a kitchen, she amused us at times with her innocent misuse of language. Her mom’s second language was English, so certain expressions and colloquialisms had not translated well in their household. I remember Shirley saying to me once, “Renee, I have a chicken to pluck with you.” I had to think about that one. “You mean a bone to pick?” I asked her. She replied, “Weren’t you listening? That’s what I said!”

Tony and Shirley were early supporters of the Christian education movement. They sacrificed to put their children through Northern Dutchess Christian School and enabled the teachers through encouragement and giving. They introduced me to the school, which hired me to teach English, and I stayed on for nineteen years. During that time, I was blessed to teach young Tony and Tara in my classes.

It was Shirley’s idea to begin a ladies’ Bible study. Though it had probably been sixteen years since my days in Tony’s teen study, I again joined a Monday night group led by a DiRenzo. We met at Nancy Clum’s house, and Shirley fed us—this time by helping us appreciate our spiritual food, the meat of the Word. Others who joined the group were JoAnn Smith, Marge Brecht, Clara Gierka, Chris Moon, Felicia Webber, Katheleen Talledge, Suze Couchey, Rose Elliot, and Lynn MacPherson. Together we learned the great truths of the Bible with guidance from two special ladies, Shirley and author Cynthia Heald.

During that study, several of us were passing around the Mark of the Lion books by Francine Rivers. The first two books tell the story of Hadassah, a young Jewish girl, daughter of a prophet, who is sold into slavery. The Roman family she serves grows to love her but can’t protect her from being sentenced to the lion’s den when she becomes a Christian. Her impact on the family members changes their lives. (If you have never read these books, check them out: A Voice in the Wind (Mark of the Lion #1), An Echo in the Darkness (Mark of the Lion #2))

Shirley responded to the novels with characteristic enthusiasm. After reading the first one, she exclaimed, “If I had lived back then, Hadassah and I would’ve been best friends.” My sister loved needling her with, “You know she’s not real, right? We call that fiction.”

Sadly for us New Yorkers, Tony and Shirley moved away in 1996, after twenty-two years in Germantown. They ended up in Augusta, Georgia, as Tony changed careers from insurance agent to financial planner with Wells Fargo. They joined First Presbyterian Church of Augusta, where Shirley worked as a ministry assistant for the music leaders—until someone discovered her background in youth work. Then the youth pastor moved her to the youth ministry staff. Tony and Shirley quickly became vital, supportive members of their new church family.

And from her country kitchen in Augusta, Shirley kept right on feeding people. So much so that she left her office job and began a catering business with partner Kathy Boyles, an enterprise which they named Tastefully Done. The two women handle bigger events several weekends each month and smaller events during the week. They are as busy as they wish to be, even having had to turn away business, and all without advertising.

Tony helps Ellie with her cupcake

A typical week might find Shirley and Tony meeting with friends from Bible study. They recently finished The Truth Project, a Focus on the Family study on building a biblical world view. Next on their agenda would be, babysitting the grandkids (they have five, with one more on the way) and working out in the local gym (“I have to keep him young,” Shirley says about Tony).

Shirley might end up hosting out of town guests, rearranging her schedule to help someone in need, cooking dinner for the church singles, donating and preparing food for a local ministry, and walking a panicked groom through a rehearsal dinner.

Tony and Shirley also faithfully attend church services, crediting First Pres as the body that taught them what worship really means. And no week would be complete for them without gathering the family together for Sunday dinner.

Shirley with son-in-law Kevin, son Joe, Tara and her girls

I recently spent an evening with the DiRenzos. As I visited with Tony, Shirley, and the kids, I found myself thinking of a quote I heard once that “broken bread feeds many.” It seems to me that Tony and Shirley have allowed themselves to be broken and used up to feed the needs of those around them.

I could not hope to convey the stories of all the people Tony and Shirley have befriended, encouraged, supported, and loved. Maybe you can help.

Please leave a comment on this blog post for Tony and Shirley to read. I’d love for you to share your own story, but even a simple word of thanks for their friendship would be great. Bless Tony and Shirley with your words of encouragement. (Note: I will be traveling for the next few days, but your comments will show up on this post as soon as I can access a computer to approve them!)

Renee Ann Smith

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I teach literature in a Christian high school by day and write inspirational fiction by night. I love to share heart-touching quotes and stories here on my blog. So glad you stopped by!

16 responses to Shirley DiRenzo: A cook you would welcome into your kitchen

  1. Nicely done, Renee! I enjoyed reading about our old friends from Clermont Bible Church. Great memories! Good people! — Phil PS: I’ll have Marilyn read it later as she’s not near a computer this afternoon.

  2. I enjoyed reading this so much! Shirley and Tony are dear, dear old (not in years) friends. Really more than friends since we are brothers and sisters in God’s family! What fun we had as young families…peanuts, Wednesday night church dinners…on and on! Thanks for reminding me of the blessings the DiRenzo family brought to us!

  3. Lynn MacPherson August 19, 2010 at 10:55 pm

    Renee, you said it very well! Joe and I have fond memories of Tony and Shirley. Their hospitality is inspirational. True Biblical patterning of how to do it. I remember all of the Teen Missions Conferences that we all were a part of. Talk about mass producing food! Also, the backyard events surrounding the 4th of July fireworks. We had front row seats!

  4. Tastefully done, Renee.

  5. Christine Luzzi August 20, 2010 at 1:06 am

    What a wonderful compilation of memories….when you mentioned their reaching out to widows, I immediately thought of my first Mother’s Day as a widow….Tony took the children out and bought a beautiful plant and cards for them to give me. Tara gave me a cup with my name on it for my birthday…..it’s still my favorite and I think of her as I have my morning cup of tea. They have always lived their lives faithful to their God, giving examples and love to all around them. Another wonderful tribute to your friends…..thanks for the memories!

  6. What a wonderful tribute to a woman of God. The DiRenzo family has always been seen as a great family, and your words convey that so well.

  7. I have to admit, in reading this things were brought back to memory that have been long forgot. I am so thankful for my mom and dad, and their love sacrifice, and Godly example/influence! I pray that I can be at least half of what they are as a parent, in their compassion and devotion. Thank you Renee for bringing back some memories and also for telling some new stories that I did not know.

  8. Renee, what a wonderful bio on the DiRenzo family! Each of the family members; Tony, Shirley, “little” Tony, Tara, & “Joey” are just precious friends from my single days of Marcia & I hanging out with them till today. “Little” Tony was the handsome ringbearer in our wedding 25 years ago! They continue to be such a huge blessing in my life & my family’s. Our recent visit with them & Lou at Dave Clum’s house was like the “old days”!!!! It’s wonderful to just pick up where you left off with good friends despite not seeing them for years. God is good!

  9. Oh – that beautifully written story about Shirley and family brought back so many memories!! My years at NDCS were enriched by knowing Shirley and Tony and teaching all three of their children. My favorite memory is our trip to Boston with our 4th grade class. Mr. Tony went along as a chaperone and we had an incident with our cars during the visit to the Constitution – Old Ironsides. Our cars were broken into and when the police were taking the info from us, they asked the name of my insurance company. I told them and to dd the other car owners and it was all the same company. The officer commented on the coincidence of that – so I took him over to introduce him to Mr.Tony DiRenzo – who by the way was our incurance agent. We all had a good laugh.
    Tony, Shirley, Tony, Tara, and Joey – they are all a great part of my memories of Northern Dutchess Christian School. God Bless each of them.

  10. I am not sure if my opinion is jaded or not, but I have to say there are few people you can say as much about! Beautifully written, about beautiful people. I would not be where I am today without the influence that they had, and still have on my Dad! Love it! And love them!!!

  11. What a wonderful tribute – may God receive the glory for displaying Himself in imperfect people serving a wonderfully perfect God!

  12. Heather Brenzel Stary August 21, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    Wow! That made me really miss them! I remember the time youth group was carving pumpkins in their dining room and young Tony cut his hand on a knife as he grabbed the blade that was stuck in a pumpkin! Don’t remember if he needed stitches! Probably! I think I’ll have to make a trip to Augusta!

  13. What a beautiful tribute to two wonderful people. Tony and Shirley were such an important part of my “growing up” years as a Christian. Thank you, Renee, for sharing your memories so eloquently. Thank you, Tony and Shirley, for allowing the Lord’s love to shine through you. You have been a blessing to me and to many others!

  14. I too have very fond memories of the hospitality of the Shirley & Tony. My favorite was the “fondue party” which turned out to be a baby shower for me (& Leslie)…It was such a great night! Steve & I had many happy times there, and the girls had so much fun playing with the “kids”. Those years in Columbia county are very precious to us, and the DiRenzo’s played a big part!!

  15. Lisa MacPherson August 25, 2010 at 2:47 am

    Renee! This was well written. What a wonderful family! I remember many youth group events (mostly with food) and even talent shows with the Direnzo’s. There were several college trips, mission trips, bonfires, volleyball games, and much more!

  16. I’m reading this story more than four years after you wrote it. Very nice.

    It’s not an urban legend that a teenager fell out of the car. That was me, and I had no lasting injuries. (I did, however, have a wicked road rash on my stomach.)

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