by Susan Lakes
The trees, planters, patio seating area and signs all look the same at Venice on Vine in downtown Cincinnati. So do the streetlights. The restaurant is still a hub of activity, serving up some hot pizza, organic coffee and a variety of meals while trainers train and learners learn.
Opportunities to dine in or carry out remain, and the place still bills itself as “Good Food for a Good Cause,” with diversity, education, community and collaboration as guiding values.
Things might look the same, but they aren’t. Tebbe isn’t there.
Mary “Tebbe” Farrell, Venice on Vine’s beloved trainer, died May 20, 2011. The sting of the loss is still fresh for her co-workers, friends and those she dedicated her life to serving. The loss is real, but those close to her vow they’ll carry on.
After all, that’s what the energetic playwright, video and music producer, arts promoter and educator would want.
Tebbe is gone but not forgotten.
“There isn’t any place in this restaurant you won’t see the footprint of Tebbe,” said Rina Saperstein, executive director for Venice on Vine/Venice Catering.
Tebbe brought special gifts and talents to the workplace, and many credit her work with making Venice a place that prioritizes learning in a special way. She was hired to coordinate tutoring and work with students/workers on GED and Adult Basic Education skills.
Tebbe went way beyond her job description. She redesigned a menu, brought in musicians to fundraise, set up art exhibits, built up the volunteer worker base and headed up an empowering project that put students in charge of office space design.
Tebbe talked about the whys of her job about a month before her death.
“Why do I do this? I do this because I love so much what I do. And I learn so much from the people that I work with. It’s the greatest mission I’ve ever been involved with. And it has brought the best out in me.”
The 55-year-old’s efforts didn’t go unnoticed. Venice planned to put her on the staff roster this fall when her time with AmeriCorps ended, Saperstein said. She excelled in development, and Venice was going to have Tebbe head up that department.
“She loved this job,” said longtime friend, Mark Bennison.
The two met in 1981 at Moles Records, the city’s first used record shop. True to Tebbe’s curious nature, she approached Mark and asked, “Who are you? I’ve seen you around.”
The two spent time talking, but it was Christmas time that Bennison remembers. They reserved that time for a movie, but not just any film. It has to be something with a message, because that’s just the kind of person Tebbe was. She liked themes with causes and fought for what she believed in.
Dennison will remember her as a “nefarious chameleon,” a multi-faceted person who adapted well to any situation.
Another friend, Josie Pickens, remembers Tebbe as passionate and spunky.
Tears rimmed Pickens eyes as she talked about what AmeriCorps meeting days are like now that Tebbe’s gone.
“This past Wednesday was strange,” Pickens said quietly during a recent interview inside Venice. “It was the last time I didn’t come here to pick her up.”
Pickens met Tebbe when they both joined the ‘domestic peace corps,’ AmeriCorps. Although Tebbe drove, they ride shared to bi-weekly meetings for economic and social reasons. It was Pickens who did the driving after picking Tebbe up at her workplace.
“She loved this job,” Pickens said. She even marked off personal space in the back room offices of the restaurant. Her chair with the words, “Tebbe’s chair” remains in her space that’s front and center below the big stacks of GED training materials.
Trainee Daniel McEntee, 18, remembers what a help Tebbe was to him when he began training for GED in April.
“She believed in me,” he said, adding she was a good influence. “She would help anyone who wanted the help.”
McEntee hope for the best for Tebbe’s family though their grief. He’ll take his GED and finish the goal—the office space redesign-he and Tebbe planned. “I think about her every time I look at that desk.”
Contact Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, Adult Education Fund, 701 Columbia Avenue for information about Tebbe’s memorial fund.