Born to a Catholic family in Corpus Christi, Texas, Kelley Fitzsimonds’ naval family moved around plenty: from Guam to Hawaii and then to California. Now a resident of St. Augustine, Florida, this world traveler remembers fondly his Catholic childhood. And, another major influence on his adult life: his father was a mess cook for the Navy.

Helping his dad prep meals? “My sister and I always in the kitchen making the salad, doing dishes, some part of meal preparation,” he said.. “We had our family dinner at the table, with a lot of structure. Most people use dining room tables now for something else.”

As a teen, Fitzsimonds was influenced by his kitchen work. He decided he wanted to be a chef, but he did not like the isolation and the structure of kitchen staffing. “I decided to go to the front of the house,” he said, “then I worked behind the bar. There you still must balance flavors as in the kitchen.”

He briefly attended culinary school in Atlanta called the Art School, but after two weeks he decided that all that the school offered in training was not delivered, so he started working for a sports bar in Smyrna, Georgia, and is now at the Odd Birds bar in St. Augustine.

Throughout his career in a secular setting, he not only maintains his faith, but is profoundly grateful to the local Catholic Charities camp for their compassionate help with his autistic son. “Attending the camp has been a life-changing event,” he said. “When we drop him off at camp, we tell him all the activities that are going to happen.” The counselors have a photographer who takes numerous pictures throughout the day and show parents how their children are doing. Fitzsimons said he watched his son leading Congo dances and visiting their petting zoo.

“It is very enlightening as a parent,” he said, noting that once his son gets home, he loves to bake and to cook. “He watches the Food Network, and he started doing many different cookies. I would bring a bag of cookies to work, and that helped pay for his camp.” In fact, his son, Kyle, baked and sold so many cookies that he paid for his own camp last year. 

He said. “It was easy for him to do that, and paid for it all through his baking… He cannot read, but creates and follows his own recipes.” It has helped that his dad also loves to cook and has more than 200 cookbooks. “He goes to a cookbook, and finds a recipe picture. Now we have quite the following in St. Augustine, and have given load of cookies out. That camp sparked such a life in my child. We now know that life is there.” The cookies are called Kyle’s Camp Cookies from Kyle’s Cookie Company.

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