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Local man teaches kindness through love of baking

by Katherine Fernandez - Copy Editor
Thu, Feb 21st 2019 02:00 pm

If you had three Master’s degrees, what would you do with them? Chet “The Bread Man” Fery uses his to teach the world how to be kind to one another, and it all starts with a loaf of freshly baked bread. 

Fery graduated from The College at Brockport in 1972 with a teaching degree in history and political science. He realized that he loved learning more than anything else and went on to receive several degrees. During his years as an undergraduate student, he worked as a short order cook in a popular diner, where he discovered his love of cooking almost surpassed his love of eating. He also credits college with kickstarting his ventures into kindness. 

“The college did for me what I hope it’s also doing for [students], it helped me change my life,” Fery said. “It helped me realize that there’s a purpose for me.” 

His connection to Brockport is what led him and his wife Marina to settle down here rather than his hometown of Buffalo, New York. They went on to raise their children in Brockport and have lived in the village for the past 41 years. 

Initially, Fery’s journey into bread making started with him trying to recreate his favorite pizza. After a few weeks, Fery decided to switch it up and make bread. With the abundance of bread in his home, he decided to bring bread with him to work on Mondays and saw an immediate change in the productivity of his teaching staff. 

“I did it every Monday for three years, and one day I forgot to bring it and a lady made me go home and get it,” Fery said. “That’s how important it was.”

He found that people came to work early so they would have time to eat and there was a general improvement of everyone’s mood.

His iconic Bread Man moniker originated during a trip to the Newman Center where, upon seeing him, a college student exclaimed “hey, the Bread Man is here.” 

Fery volunteers to do bread baking classes and tell his “bread time stories” at school assemblies, conventions and even at colleges. He often walks through the village on the weekends, giving bread to local business owners, who all know him by name. He frequents Java Junction, Lagom, Collector’s Choice, Bittersweet and Jimmy Z’s. Fery uses his bread to meet new people, giving loaves and business cards to people he meets to bridge the gap between “strangers” and “new friends.” He likes to spend time cultivating the relationship between college students and residents of the village, hoping that through kindness and motivation current students will make Brockport a better place for everybody. 

“It is enriching,” Fery said. “When you share an act of kindness it also affirms your own values, it also affirms that your life has meaning.”

An initiative that Fery holds near and dear to his heart is his “Creating Schools of Kindness” project, where he goes to schools and promotes an environment of kindness. Fery told a story about a school he went to where bullying was prominent and he decided the best combatant was kindness. He started a competition at the school, saying the class with the most acts of kindness would earn a celebratory pizza party. 

In addition to the behavioural problems already present at the school, students were on edge since it had only been a week after the tragic Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. The goal was to empower students and show them they could feel safer and more secure through kindness. When Fery returned for the pizza party, he told students how proud he was of their genuine efforts to spread kindness. He brought over 400 loaves of bread that day, one for every student. When a teacher said he should not have rewarded every student because they didn’t all take part in the exercise, Fery refused to single the kids out.

“I told her ‘I don’t care,’” Fery said. “‘I want every student in this building to feel kindness and a loaf of bread will do it.’ You couldn’t be in the school for a week and not feel kindness. You could choose not to participate, but you couldn’t help but feel it.” 

The kids shared their congratulatory bread loaves with their friends, spreading even more kindness throughout the school. 

One kid in particular caught his attention. He never looked at Fery during the bread baking lesson and didn’t engage much with his classmates. He caught Fery by surprise, asking if he could help him make the bread. The child made bread at home with his mother and by associating bread with pleasant memories, he quickly opened up to Fery. Meanwhile, the child’s teacher was in the back of the classroom crying, astounded by the sudden change of heart in her student who never talked to anybody and never volunteered to participate. The Bread Man was far from surprised though.

“Creating an atmosphere of kindness allows people to share the goodness inside of them, the goodness that’s inside all of us,” Fery said of the experience. “When people bring up their own bread story, their faces change. There’s something about sharing a cherished memory that just puts us in a better place. When you put yourself in that better place you’re a better person, a better student, a better learner, you’re more creative, you’re a problem solver instead of being a problem maker. There’s something that brings out the best of us when we are in a place of kindness.”

The Bread Man has now made close to 100,000 loaves of bread, and despite the chronic shoulder and wrist pain he’s been experiencing, he doesn’t want to quit his hobby.

“I don’t think I’ll ever stop,” Fery said. “I love doing this.” 

On top of his many years working in school administration, Fery is also a life coach, working with troubled people to put their lives back on track. He urges them to be kind to themselves in addition to being kind to others. He tells people to do one thing everyday that is just for them, even if it is as simple as treating themselves to a drink from their favorite coffee shop. 

“People care less for others when they care less for themselves,” Fery said. 

The people who have interacted with the famous Brockport Bread Man have all opened up and shared their own bread time stories with him, passing on smiles and acts of kindness.