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Waukegan: Waitress rewarded for act of kindness

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

If you’re tipping in the 20 percent range, you’d have to run up $5,000 worth of corned-beef sandwiches at the Peacock Restaurant on Belvidere Road to require a gratuity of $1,000.

There was no such bill for Elizabeth “Peg” Hewitt on Thursday. But 11 days after the lifelong resident of Gurnee passed away at the age of 95, that was exactly the tip delivered by friends to her favorite waitress, Marie Kernin.

The gift was Hewitt’s way of thanking Kernin for buying her a new coat two Decembers ago. Gary Campbell, Hewitt’s neighbor of 34 years, and Leslie Klocek, her longtime dining companion, hand-delivered the surprise after showing up at the Peacock around dinnertime and requesting Kernin’s station.

“A little bird told us that several years ago, you did a very good deed,” Klocek said, reading from a card featuring a cardinal, Hewitt’s favorite bird.

“Your generosity and kindness were not overlooked or forgotten. You bought an elderly lady a coat with your hard-earned money. She would like to thank you and make your Christmas a little brighter this year.”

Overcome with emotion, Kernin clutched another gift: the last photograph taken of Hewitt on a trip to New York City with Klocek last month.

“That’s my angel,” Kernin said. “Just her being herself always made my day. She was so stubborn, but I loved her to death.”

Hewitt’s trio of friends swapped tales about her, recalling how she liked to order such particular comforts as a rueben sandwich on toast without sauerkraut.

“She was a very, very, very finicky eater,” Campbell said. “She always ordered corned beef. Sometimes egg salad, sometimes grilled cheese. But usually, it was corned beef.”

Kernin became so familiar with her over the course of three to four years that she cajoled Hewitt about a coat that “was raggedy and torn up and too long. So I said, ‘You know what I’m going to do? I’m gonna get you a new coat.’”

When Kernin literally snuck up behind Hewitt with the coat the next time they crossed paths, “she was just like a little kid all over again.”

On Thursday, that unexpected joy was revisited.

“You know what she would say,” Klocek said. “’Don’t spend it all in one place.’”

“I won’t,” Kernin said. “It’ll be the best Christmas I ever had.”

Hewitt, a retired administrator with the Illinois Department of Public Aid, had been a regular at the Peacock, and stipulated that the amount be provided for Kernin.

Toula Alatzakis, who owns the Peacock with her husband, Paul Alatzakis, said Marie is a favorite among the restaurant’s frequent visitors.

“Marie is loved by a lot of our customers, especially our senior citizens,” Alatzakis said. “She’s very caring and helpful, and always takes time to talk with them, and see how their day is going. I think she makes them feel like family, and people appreciate that.”

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