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Bluffs loses beloved local chef, cooking instructor

Bluffs loses beloved local chef, cooking instructor


She fed the masses — usually eight mouths at a time.

Elaine Fenner, Council Bluffs’ favorite chef and cooking instructor, died Oct. 7 at the age of 75.

“It’s been hard,” said her husband, Bob. “It’s kind of hard when you lose somebody you’ve been with for (almost) 54 years.”

This followed multiple health problems, Bob said.

“She had a terrible year,” he said. “It was just like a never-ending battle for her this year.”

In January, Elaine fell and knocked her left shoulder out of the socket, Bob said. She was hospitalized but was not considered a good candidate for surgery because of her history of congestive heart failure, so she started rehabilitation.

“I’m very fortunate I have my health,” Bob said. “I was a constant caregiver.”

A few weeks later, Elaine was in the hospital with a cellulitis infection but recovered from that in three to five days.

Later in the year, she developed a fever, and Bob took her to the hospital, where they found she had a low oxygen level. They put her on oxygen and couldn’t take her off without her level dropping again.

“I honestly think she had COVID,” he said. “The only thing that was keeping her alive was keeping her on pure oxygen.”

Plans to go to New York to visit her brother, who has been battling pancreatic cancer, were scrapped.

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Elaine told Bob she did not want to be resuscitated, intubated or placed on a ventilator.

Their daughter, Amy, and son-in-law Greg Skolaut, set up a Zoom session with all six of Elaine’s brothers and sisters, Bob said.

“She got to see all of them, she got to talk to all of them,” he said. “She said ‘This is goodbye, because after we’re done, I’m going to have the doctor unplug me.’”

She lasted about two more hours, Bob said.

Bob, an infantryman, and Elaine, an Army nurse, met at Fort Carson, Colorado and spent the first year of their married life in Japan. They moved to Council Bluffs before starting a family. Elaine worked as a school nurse for Council Bluffs Community Schools, an instructor for Jennie Edmundson School of Nursing and an occupational health leader at Jennie Edmundson Hospital. Still, she and Bob found time to run The Pasta Shop, where they sold homemade pasta, sauce, pizza crusts and breadsticks. They also ran a catering service for a while.

But Elaine was best known for her cooking classes and the meals she and Bob made that were auctioned off in advance at fundraisers for a plethora of nonprofit organizations.

“She was greatly loved and respected in the community,” he said. “Her dinners would go for $3,400 to $3,600 for eight people. One time we did one for the Red Cross. We sold one dinner, and somebody else said, ‘Would you do another one for that amount?’ We ended up making $10,000 for the Red Cross.”

“People would pay a lot of money for her dinners, because they knew how good they were and how entertaining they were,” said Nancy Schulze.

Elaine helped with Heartland Family Service’s Strike a Chord fundraiser for years, and Schulze was director of Iowa services for the agency for many of those years.

“Elaine never said ‘No,’ and it was so incredibly generous of her,” Schulze said. “She also helped with the publicity of it. She’d do anything to help out and also had great fundraising ideas. She always had suggestions on how you could improve your entertainment.”

Elaine also served as a celebrity artist one year, she said.

She taught cooking classes at home and in other venues and even wrote a column for the Nonpareil for years, “Cooking With Elaine.”

Elaine Fenner’s complete obituary is published on Page A9 of today’s Nonpareil.

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