Local author and cooking enthusiast Kenny Sylvester has donated proceeds from the sale of his heart-healthy cookbook, “Mr. Abe’s Goody Book,” to the University of South Alabama Mitchell Cancer Institute.
The self-described “Optimistic Cook” and longtime friend and personal assistant to Mobile businessman and philanthropist Abraham “Abe” Mitchell said he decided to make the contribution to show that he shares the Mitchell family dream of having a world-class cancer center in this community.
“My hope is that someday, nobody will ever have to die from cancer,” Sylvester said. “I also have the hope that a cure for cancer might come from right here in Mobile. And, even if the cure is not found, perhaps a major contribution toward the cure will come from the Mitchell Cancer Institute.”
The USA Mitchell Cancer Institute was named in honor of the Mitchell family in 2006, following their $22 million gift to the University in support of the facility. Abe Mitchell, his late brother Mayer, and Mayer’s wife, Arlene, have given more than $36.6 million to USA, touching all aspects of the University.
Also giving of their time, Mayer Mitchell served on the University’s Board of Trustees for more than 32 years, and Arlene has been on the board since 2007, filling the vacancy created by the death of her husband. Mayer died in 2007, having fought cancer for more than three decades.
“I also had a close relationship with Mayer,” Sylvester noted. “He and his brother, Abe, have passed on to me their desire to have a cancer center here in Mobile, where people can get state-of-the-art treatment without leaving the area.”
Abe Mitchell described his assistant of 26 years as a “good and gracious individual” whose commitment to the USA Mitchell Cancer Institute serves as an inspiration for those on the grass-roots level to get involved in the cause.
“People with Mr. Sylvester’s intentions give me an incentive to go out and work a little harder for the Mitchell Cancer Institute,” Mitchell said. “This will be an example for others to contribute in a similar manner. We can, all in our own way, do something to contribute to the defeat of this deadly disease.”
In addition to donating proceeds from his cookbook sales, Sylvester has made several other personal contributions to the USA Mitchell Cancer Institute. Dr. Michael Boyd, Abraham Mitchell Chair and Director of the USA Mitchell Cancer Institute, said private support from individuals such as Sylvester is crucial to the facility’s mission.
“Mr. Sylvester’s love and dedication to the Mitchell family couldn’t be better expressed than by this special gesture,” Boyd said. “I consider him a great friend, and his contribution is symbolic in terms of the breadth of community support that we’ve experienced from individuals who are emotionally attached and involved in the development of the Mitchell Cancer Institute. This level of support has been key to the progress we’ve been able to achieve in a relatively short period of time.”
Sylvester, a Prichard, Ala., native, said he decided to write the self-published book in 2004 when Abe Mitchell, his “best friend and mentor,” announced that he needed to make a lifestyle change that included switching to a strict diet and exercise program. Not willing to sacrifice taste in the pursuit of a healthier diet, Sylvester set out to develop dishes that would be both healthy and palatable.
“That started my quest,” he said. “The cookbook is the end result.”
Recipes in the heart-healthy cookbook are easy to prepare and contain no added salt, sugar, red meat or trans fats. Opposing pages to each recipe are blank so readers can make notes and personalize the dishes to suit their own needs and tastes.
Sylvester said the recipes are tastefully presented, but there are no “orchestrated” or “fake foods” in the book.
“I prepared and photographed most of the dishes in the book,” he said. “What you see is what you actually get. I did this intentionally so I wouldn’t intimidate the average or non-cooking person. I want those people to look at the recipe and say to themselves, ‘I can do this.’”
Sylvester said the cookbook, now in its third edition, has been a hard-fought project, but his greatest reward has been in the act of giving back. As an active community volunteer, he has helped numerous charities, but the Mitchell Cancer Institute remains foremost in his heart.
“What I’ve done is just a drop in the bucket compared to what the Mitchells have done, but I wanted to make a gesture to show I’m committed to seeing that the Mitchell Cancer Institute becomes the best it can be,” Sylvester said.
“We have the Mitchell Cancer Institute here, but we still have a lot of work to do,” he said. “I challenge everyone to donate whatever possible to help the Institute achieve its greatest potential.”
Sylvester’s gift is part of Campaign USA, the University’s first comprehensive fund-raising campaign for USA programs, faculty, students and construction. Campaign USA was launched in March 2006 and, to date, has raised $76.3 million. Led by Jim Yance, the Campaign USA Leadership team is comprised of local civic, business and national leaders, many of whom are alumni.
Campaign USA will enrich all aspects of USA, from its academic colleges and schools to its hospitals, athletic programs, libraries and campuses. The money raised will be used to fund such items as undergraduate and graduate scholarships, professorships, classroom and laboratory equipment, and health care innovations. Funds will also be used for capital enhancements to USA’s athletic facilities and a campus bell tower.
For information on Campaign USA, visit www.campaignusaleadership.com or call (251) 460-7032.
Sylvester’s cookbook, “Mr. Abe’s Goody Book,” is available for purchase at The Fresh Market in Mobile and bookstores nationwide.