If you visit Leni Richardson's spacious home in Glendale, you'll never be hungry or bored. Richardson, 75, loves to entertain, encourage and, most of all, feed her guests.
Her culinary obsession began decades ago, and resulted in six cookbooks, many of them cranked out long before the convenience of home computers and printers, on whatever equipment was available at the time. Recently, a fellow parishioner at her beloved Grandview Presbyterian Church snapped up a decades-old, weather-beaten copy of one of those books, still usable after all these years. But Richardson's motive goes beyond chocolate-chip cookies or French cuisine, which happens to be her favorite, even though she was born in Holland. For her, it's about sharing her faith by connecting with others.
"She is always an encourager, a joyful person with a positive outlook," says Grandview's recently retired pastor, the Rev. Ken Reynan. "Everyone became family to her; she was the encourager to celebrate an anniversary or birthday, things like that."
Richardson is a longtime deacon at Grandview.
"We would have church dinners or a funeral reception; she would always be the one in the kitchen," he said.
At home, Richardson has hosted dinner parties for as many as 100 people, according to Reynan.
Copies of Richardson's most recent cookbook, "Recipes from the Heart," are still available at Grandview for $10 each, with all of the proceeds benefiting the church.
"The cooking started when I would bring treats to my boys (Now all grown up, one a college professor, the other, a lawyer) during their Little League games, and the other mothers would ask for the recipes," Richardson said. "The kids especially loved the chicken enchiladas and tuna noodle casseroles. The books were printed, but not published, so we kept to a small format, each no more than 80 pages long. Eventually, I started selling them to kids to give to their parents as stocking stuffers, as well as to the PTA for fund-raisers."
In addition to her own works, Richardson has a collection of 2,000 cookbooks at home.
When she's not involved in cooking or church duties, Richardson, who has a masters in counseling from USC, chairs the Scholarship Committee at the Assistance League of Glendale, screening hundreds of scholarship applicants every year.
She's also one of the most voracious readers you'll find. Various book club adventures have taken her to the home of the writer of a book about the Hillside Strangler, who drew chalk lines on the sidewalk and put up yellow police tape that confused a mail carrier into believing a real crime had happened; and to South Carolina to research "Charleston," a romantic novel set in the region's beautiful homes and gardens.
Richardson got a head start on success in life. At a time when most women were confined to the kitchen and other homemaking roles, she started a number of businesses, including one of the first photo-protection services, which would document people's valuables for lawyers and insurance companies.
The church is the foundation behind Leni Richardson's many community activities, said Grandview's administrator, Juli Erikson. "She's helped us keep going through some challenging times. She's just an encouragement. I think she was born that way. I've never seen her not smile."