As a boy, Jay Christopher would play pickup softball on spring days on the old Rosary College fields. Sometimes groups of nuns walking by would stop to play a few innings, rolling up their sleeves and taking a few swings. The Lutheran youth was duly impressed.
Last Wednesday, Jay and his wife, Doris, founders of The Pampered Chef, were back on campus, now called Dominican University, to celebrate their $2-million donation to the school’s new state-of-the-art Nutrition Sciences Center.
The gift includes a $500,000 endowment which will be used to maintain the facility, update equipment and advance the nutrition sciences curriculum. The gift will also help expand the Recipe Box Café, the university’s community dinner program, which brings people from River Forest and Oak Park onto the campus for weekly lunches.
Jay Christopher had previously endowed a chair in Business Ethics at Dominican.
Doris and Jay Christopher founded The Pampered Chef in their Thatcher Avenue home’s basement in 1980, using a $3,000 cash-out from a life insurance policy. Doris bought 70 kitchen gadgets from Chicago’s wholesale Merchandise Mart and marketed them directly to clients through in-home cooking demonstrations.
That proved to be all the business needed over the next 15 years, as it funded all its growth solely with cash flow. The Christophers built the business into the premier distributor of high-quality kitchen tools sold through in-home demonstrations, with 12 million customers.
In 2002, the company had sales of $740 million, and attracted the attention of entrepreneur Warren Buffet, who made the company part of his platinum standard Berkshire Hathaway Company. It’s all been more than Doris Christopher ever dreamed of.
“It was never really my goal or my intent to make a lot of money,” she told her audience. “We wanted to celebrate the importance of bringing families together around the table.” That philosophy reflects the goals of the school’s nutrition science program, which seeks to foster greater awareness of healthy, enjoyable eating.
Christopher, who received her degree in the mid 1970s at a time when nutrition science was referred to as “home economics,” said she also never would have imagined having the Christopher name attached to a Dominican University building.
“To have our names be a part of it is a real honor,” she said.
Dominican spokesperson Jessica Mackinnon said the Nutition Science curriculum is one of the University’s fastest growing programs.
Speaking of her success as a nutritionist and Dominican’s part in it, Rosary College graduate Maria Fillippo Theodore said, “The foundation was right here.” Theodore went on to work for the Pampered Chef before eventually starting her own business.
After the presentation, as the Nutrition Science Center’s current students stood by, some 100 people enjoyed the two activities the Christophers value most-good healthy food and community.
Jay Christopher, meanwhile, was told he’s welcome to use Dominican’s fields any time.
“My sources tell me the sisters stand ready to challenge you to another [softball] game,” the Nutrition Center’s Jeffrey Carlson told him as he presented the couple with Dominican softball caps.