Pemberton hosts free Thanksgiving dinner, helps local football program

REED CITY — Whether it’s cutting ham in his restaurant’s kitchen or helping young athletes find the endzone, Richard Pemberton prefers to be on the sidelines. The 48-year-old father of three is known as a man ready to help his community in any way possible. “He is always willing to give of himself and what he can do. Whatever you need, he’ll help,” said Suzie Williams, executive director of the Reed City Area Chamber of Commerce.” He does so much behind the scenes.” From serving up platefuls of free Thanksgiving dinner to the less fortunate and volunteering to work with the Reed City Rocket Football program, Pemberton has touched countless lives with his positive attitude and dedication to the community. His efforts to reach beyond himself to make a positive impact are what made the Reed City businessman a finalist for the Pioneer’s 2012 Citizen of the Year award. The Pioneer hosts an annual award to recognize the service and accomplishments of an individual over the past year. Citizens were nominated by Pioneer readers for going above and beyond the call of duty in their community. The winner was showcased in the last weekend edition of the Pioneer in 2012. “I think somebody’s playing a prank on me,” Pemberton said, after finding out he was nominated. “It’s just natural to be giving back to the community.” Pemberton, co-owner of Nestle Inn Cafe in Reed City, began hosting a free Thanksgiving dinner at his restaurant six years ago. The restaurant donates nearly $1,000 worth of food to feed the community each Thanksgiving. “The first year we had 40 people and this year we had 150,” Pemberton said. The idea for the community outreach was born when Thanksgiving traditions for Pemberton and his business partner, Shari Holben, came to a halt  the same year the pair bought the restaurant. They each lost family members. “That September my mother passed away. That November my partner’s mom passed away,” Pemberton said. “My dad and I and Shari all looked at each other and said, ‘We’re stuck by ourselves so why don’t we do something?’ And that’s where it started.” For the past six years, community members without a place to go for Thanksgiving have become part of the family at Nestle Inn Cafe. Along with serving food to his customers, Pemberton shares laughs and stories with them as if they were part of his extended family. “He has a rapport with everybody who comes in there. He likes to jabber with them and argue with them and talk with them,” said Bill Pemberton, Richard’s father. “He has a lot of fun with the regular customers. Most of them are on a first-name basis with him.” Williams said the restaurant’s hometown atmosphere and homemade meal offerings adds to Reed City’s dining options. “The Nestle Inn is a very nice place. They make great food and it’s all homemade. They have really good burgers, their breakfasts are really good and they always have soup for lunch. They are very much community-oriented people,” she said. “It’s just so nice that they do (the free Thanksgiving dinner.) It just brings a sense of giving back. They give so that everybody has a place to go to for Thanksgiving. That is just incredible.” Along with providing free food and creating a makeshift family to members of the community on Thanksgiving, the restaurant collects donations at the dinner to help a local family in need. “We found an awesome family that we wanted to take care of,” Pemberton said. “It’s a family that works hard and they’re trying to make ends meet and trying to get by. They have a good core of family values, but they didn’t have anything for Christmas.” The restaurant raised $1,200 which helped with Christmas gifts, medical expenses and gasoline for the family as well as coats and hats that were given to Reed City Area Public Schools. “This is a great community. This is what we do here — take care of each other,” Pemberton said. While he points the spotlight to the generosity of others, Bill said his son’s humble heart and desire to help behind the scenes are what makes him worthy of recognition. “He does such a good job at being so charitable for everyone else and he doesn’t think about himself at all,” Bill said. “He’s a good guy. He has his quirks, but he is very humble and he doesn’t want to be known for what he’s doing. He likes to be on the sidelines.” When Pemberton isn’t serving up kindness at the Nestle Inn Cafe, he is devoting his time to an organization he loves. Though his youngest child graduated from the Reed City Rocket Football program five years ago, Pemberton still helps paint fields, run concessions and coach when needed. “I like being with the kids and watching them grow. You watch these kids come up through the program and you learn things from them and they learn things from you,” Pemberton said. “’I have kids who I coached the very first year and say, ‘Hey coach. How are you doing?’ and it just gives me that feeling that I touched this kid’s life in a certain way.” He started working with the program 15 years ago in its second year, when the field was located in “an old hay field” and concessions were in a tent. In 2007, he helped build the organization’s new sports complex, located on Four Mile Road in Reed City. Dan Pelton, coach and equipment coordinator for the Rocket Football program, said Pemberton’s behind-the-scenes work and constant presence helps the program immeasurably. “He’s the guy we always can count on,” Pelton said. “For years, he has painted our fields for us before games. If we need a coach, he’s there. He’s that guy you can count on for anything.” Pelton, who has been involved with the program for seven years, said Pemberton adds wisdom and stability to the program. “He was one of the originals and there’s not very many of them left,” Pelton said. “His kids went through, they’ve moved on and he’s stayed right here. He definitely keeps us going in the right direction.” Motivated by his children and the people he serves, Pemberton aims to live up to the example his father set. “My dad always told me that whatever I do, he wanted to see me be better than what he ever was. Those were hard shoes to fill,” he said. “I tell my kids the same thing and so far they haven’t let me down.” Bill Pemberton said he is proud of his son. “I’m proud of what he does. He stands by his word. He doesn’t worry about himself. He doesn’t even have a good running vehicle, but he will give the shirt off his back to anybody,” he said. “If I need anything, he’s here. It doesn’t matter what he has going on at the restaurant, he’ll be here in 15 minutes. That’s the kind of person he is.”