Chef/Community Builder: Phil Minkin

Photo by D. Thomas

Phil Minkin is a graduate of Southwest High School, Kansas City, MO. And then, a graduate of Michigan State University with a degree in restaurant management.

His passions: Music, food, life-long friendships, the routines and involvements that anchor a person to his community. The Christmas Eve walk, for example… Massachusetts street is the main drag in downtown Lawrence, Kansas. On Christmas Eve, Mr. Minkin stops at nearly every business and offers owners and employees a shot of Peppermint Schnapps. It’s a tradition of more than thirty years! A toast to the season. Regardless of the weather, Mr. Minkin walks the length of Massachusetts street spreading Christmas cheer and then, untouched by sleet or snow, floats home.

Photo by D. Mayberger

Another example is his black-eyed peas and cornbread brunch. On the first day of the new year, Mr. Minkin opens his home for his annual black-eyed peas and cornbread brunch. More than a hundred people on occasion have stopped by. They come for the good luck promised by a bowl of black-eyed peas when eaten on the first day of the year.

Head Start

For over thirty years, Mr. Minkin was the cook, better to say the chef for the Lawrence, Kansas Head Start program. This was his job, his source of income, but it was, as well, his community service. Head Start students too often have unmet nutritional needs. Not on Mr. Minkin’s watch. He made sure that students, young children to be more exact, had the fortification they needed in order to relax and learn.


In 2008, not long after his retirement from Head Start, several of his friends organized a party in Mr. Minkin’s honor. What does it mean to throw a party in someone’s honor? It means, simply, to celebrate the person, to acknowledge who he is and what he has given to his community and to his friends. The party was a festive event marked by a number of tributes. Marked also by a life size photograph of Mr. Minkin, cut out and mounted on a stand-alone base, a work of art.

Preserving the charm of downtown Lawrence

Of particular note following his retirement was Mr. Minkin’s effort to stop the re-making of downtown Lawrence. City officials and out-of-town developers had proposed the closing of Massachusetts Street for the purpose of building a shopping mall. Mr. Minkin wrote a letter to the editor calling for a stop to what he considered a ridiculous proposal and suddenly (reluctantly) he became the focal point of the proposal’s resistance. Mr. Minkin writes:

“We met over coffee and bagels at the home of a couple in East Lawrence. There was a general discussion of how outrageous the plan was and the overwhelming sentiment against it on the part of everyone we knew and everyone that knew the people we knew. We just needed to try and organize them in a way to make an impact large enough to stop what seemed inevitable. We talked about protests, letter writing campaigns to commissioners, hiring a lawyer and starting a petition drive to bring the issue to a vote. We decided we needed to form a grassroots organization to bring people together, set a course and mobilize to achieve our goals. It all sounded great except everyone wanted to be a behind the scene warrior. No one wanted to be out front. One by one people offered reasons why they could not take it on. New job. Perceived as too radical. Finishing my thesis. The dog ate my homework. Then it came around to me…clink, clink, clink. “Well, er, uh, I’ve never done anything like this and I’m not a great public speaker and…” “Well good, that’s decided—Phil is the chairperson. Meeting adjourned!”

After weeks of petition drives, organizational meetings, stonewalling by the mayor and city commission, press conferences and numerous articles in the local paper, the resolution to defeat the proposal was passed by a substantial margin.

This was a sizable accomplishment. Many people were a part of this effort. Mr. Minkin would want that pointed out. But he was at its center and because of his effort, their effort, the charm of historic downtown Lawrence remains intact.

Know thyself 

Photo by D. Mayberger


For over fifty years, Mr. Minkin has kept a journal. Each day’s first entry: Up. Made bed. Dressed. Three steps necessary to getting the day underway. After those entries: who he sees, what he does, and then, movies, always movies, often with a letter grade for each film: B-, C+, etc. Mr. Minkin knows exactly what he did on any given day going back decades. Was he sick or well, at home, gardening, playing softball, seeing friends in California, Kansas City, Nashville, on and on? Maintain a journal. We hear the recommendation but few have stuck with it like Mr. Minkin. But why maintain a journal? To know your habits and patterns, to know yourself, and to keep a record of when the most meaningful events of your life occurred. 

Over the years, Mr. Minkin has involved himself with weightlifting, yoga, running, long bike rides – he gave up driving long ago preferring to experience his community at bicycle speed (a la Ivan Illich). He has also taken time to write his recollections, collected in a document entitled, In My Write Mind: The Collected Writings of Phil Minkin (see below). And, with his good friend, Pat Kehde, he wrote the Lawrence/KU Trivia Quiz Book, a humorous and thoughtful tribute to the community they both love.

Mr. Minkin is a man devoted to his community. He is a student of current affairs and a friend to the arts. He roots for the Jayhawks and Royals and, as his friends know, he is part philosopher and poet.


“Americans are broad-minded people. They’ll accept the fact that a person can be an alcoholic, a dope fiend or a wife-beater, but if a man doesn’t drive a car, everybody thinks there is something wrong with him.” — Art Buchwald

Excerpts from IN MY WRITE MIND by Phil Minkin:

Mr. Minkin had a medical scare. Fortunately, it proved not as severe as first thought. In the essay entitled, “Fear and Insight: An Appreciation”, he writes:

“Remarkably, the 5 or 6 weeks after I got out of the hospital may have been the best time of my life. I was fully involved in living my life. For years my friend Dave and I had an ongoing discussion on the “meaning of life”. It informed out talk of sports, movies, books and rock and roll. One of our axioms was that as much as possible one needed to live with intention, making conscious choices about what we do at every level. During that magical period, I made deliberate decisions about everything I did: what I ate, said, thought and even how I brushed my teeth. Even more importantly, I became acutely aware of how incredibly lucky I was. I am a white male living in the USA in a community I love, with more great friends than one could wish for. I’m sure I was insufferable in telling my friends all of this with a religious enthusiasm. “God, I hate this hot weather,” someone would say. “Hey, Wilson (Mr. Minkin’s friend who died the previous year) would love to be here sweating”. “These mashed potatoes are kind of lumpy.” “Oh, I’m sure some kid in the Sudan would love them.” Even as I write this, I want to smack me. Luckily, none of my friends did. I told you they were great. The other thing I noticed during this post hospital period was that the intensity controlling my brain had been turned up to 11 (obscure “Spinal Tap” reference). Food tasted better, the sky was bluer, and every experience was special. My first softball game after I got out of the hospital was remarkable. It was one of those perfect early summer Kansas days after a rain the day before that left everything clean and fresh. We had a 6:15 game at the Clinton Sports Complex. The outfield was brilliant green; the infield was smooth and a perfect reddish brown with crisp chalk lines. I was almost in tears as I said to my teammates a line I changed only slightly from the great baseball movie, “the Rookie”: “You know what we get to do tonight, guys? We get to play softball!”

Copyright © P. Minkin

The following excerpt is from an essay entitled, “What’s the Greek Word for Hell?” In that essay, Mr. Minkin discusses his high school career and in particular the hell of pledging a fraternity (this is the late 1950s). “There are two kinds of people in the world,” Mr. Minkin writes, “those who enjoyed high school and those, like me, for whom it was a daily drag.”

“Fortunately for me, the passage of time, some personal growth and the loss of 80 pounds allow me to look back at those times (high school) without pain (or the desire to send letter bombs to the jocks and prom queens). I even went to my 20 year reunion where I felt comfortable with who I am, even though I was one of the only three guys there not in a suit. I was in what I call “Lawrence, KS formal”—a Hawaiian shirt, white pants and Birkenstocks. At the end of the evening the time came for the usual dumb awards given out at these events—Baldest guy, most often married woman, etc. The prize for the person who came the farthest was, in fact, a Hawaiian shirt, and as fate would have it, the winner was the former quarterback/prom king/Delt Sig. who had flown in from Honolulu.

At an after party, this fellow and I had a great conversation about our high school experience and our lives since. As I was about to leave, this guy who in some ways represented all of my miserable high school career, came over to me and handed me the Hawaiian shirt. He said, “You should have this.  I think you’ve come farther than I did.”

Copyright © P. Minkin

David Thomas, PhD