Club Lunch customers often see a smile when they see Miriam Sommers at the cash register.
She said she smiles because she seeks to see the positive in things.
“It’s helping when you can, loving and caring for the people around you and telling those people how you feel," she said.
Sommers smiles because a lifetime in restaurant work showed her the value of customer service. She said her father ran a restaurant and operated food service at Bacone College while she was growing up. She said her mother taught cooking and baked wedding cakes.
“When you feed people, you’re making them happy, and man, I love that,” Sommers said. “Someone comes in and they want something special. They want a special cake or they want roast beef."
She smiles when she helps others through such programs as Kids' Space and CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates).
She said she also is active in the Fraternal Order of Eagles, which supports a charity each month and helps families during the holidays.
"They are a giving, very sweet, generous group of people," she said. "They came into my life when I needed them."
Sommers seeks to stay positive while living with multiple sclerosis, which she was diagnosed with in 2010. She must take monthly infusions to help her manage the disease.
She turns the tiny medication bottles into "message in a bottle" jewelry. Sommers said she learned soldering from her father, who made stained glass windows and lamps. She also takes a quote or image between glass pieces and solders them together for jewelry.
“My youngest sister and I were at a fair or festival and we saw these charms and fell in love with them, so we decided to make a few for ourselves and we never stopped,” she said.
Sommers enjoys junking and antique shopping, an interest she said she's had forever. She recalled furnishing her home that way when she first stepped out on her own.
“And I just loved that refinished look,” she said. “But then, it was more out of necessity.”
She sells her crafted jewelry and her junking finds at a Hattie's House booth with her sisters.
Miriam Sommers said restaurant work came naturally.
"My dad was in the food service, and I inherited that love for cooking, baking and serving people,” she said. "He had the Gallery restaurant on Main Street and ran Bacone Food service.
She recalled her junior high years, when she’d help clear tables, do dishes or cut vegetables for the salad bar.
"I used the little potato peeler that made those long curly potatoes,” she said. “That was my favorite.”
Sommers found ways to pass her experience to a new generation when she and her husband opened Twisted Joe’s in 1997.
“The kids were little, and they would stack the pop crates up and help run the register,” she said. “Just as I grew up in the restaurant helping my parents, my boys were doing the same thing. They learned to treat everyone with respect, treat all customers the same.”
She said teaching her sons and young employees good customer relations and work habits was the most rewarding part of her career.
Sommers said that when she started Club Lunch last year, the restaurant’s previous owners shared their recipes with her.
"I also am working with young adults, and they're learning from me," she said. "But I also am learning from them. Millennials have a whole different way of looking at things."
Filling a need
as a volunteer
Sommers has found time to advocate for children through Kids' Space and CASA.
"There are people who don't have anyone on their side, or family to help them, or the ability to help themselves," she said.
She said her work with the Kids' Space "report rape" program is heartbreaking, yet rewarding.
"It's a horrible situation, and I really wasn't sure I could do it," she said. "But once I got in the room and saw the need for help, someone to hold their hand, just listen, it was like my mothering instinct kicked in. Instead of just feeling their pain, I was able to help them through it."
She said she helps Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners conduct examinations on victims.
"Hand-holding is very important, just being there and listening to help get that person through a crisis," she said.
She said her work with CASA involves giving children and families a voice.
"I am the voice for that child," she said. "We make sure they have a roof over their head, adequate clothing, food in the refrigerator. I'm able to see medical records."
She recalled one case in which a 2-year-old and a baby sibling from an abusive home was adopted "by a wonderful family in Fort Gibson."
doesn't hold her back
Sommers recalled noticing that she was losing her balance around 2010. She recalled thinking it was some other disorder.
"After a year and a half of being treated for something else, something told me it was not in my back, but in my brain," she said. "It was the part that controlled my balance."
She eventually was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a potentially disabling disease of the central nervous system. She said her monthly infusions help her manage her MS.
“Once the damage is done, it can’t be reversed,” she said. “All you can do is stop it from getting worse, which is where I’m at.”
Sommers says she tries to be as active as the disease would allow.
"It’s important I keep moving,” she said. “But there’s a fine line between me keeping moving and overdoing it to where I’m having to chill on the couch the next day."
She said she remains happy and refuses to see MS as a “death sentence."
“Life is too short,” she said. “If you can run, run. If you can dance, dance now. If you can travel, travel. If you can swim, swim. Do everything you absolutely can right now, when you can.”
HOW DID YOU COME TO BE AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE?
"My parents moved here when I was 2, so they made that decision for me. But I'm pretty happy with that decision."
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT MUSKOGEE?
"I like the small town feel. I like how friendly Muskogee is. I like the way neighbors and businesses work together."
WHAT WOULD MAKE MUSKOGEE A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE?
"If everyone understood that the small local businesses need their support to help us grow, and therefore be able to offer more. So you don't have to leave town for shopping or dining."
WHAT PERSON IN MUSKOGEE DO YOU ADMIRE MOST?
"My mother, Alyce Person. She is one of the kindest people I know. She's been a great role model as far as that goes. She's also a very hard-working woman. She puts others before herself. And she's as funny as can be."
WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE THING TO HAPPEN TO YOU IN MUSKOGEE?
"Probably whenever I opened our business, Twisted Joe's. That was pretty awesome. Twisted Joe's Soft Pretzel Shop. It was months and months of planning and test baking coming to fruition."
WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME? "Read. I read a lot. I'm pretty curious and inquisitive, so I like to read about anything that I don't know about."
HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP MUSKOGEE IN 25 WORDS OR LESS?
"Friendly, hard-working hometown."
Meet Miriam Sommers
HOMETOWN: Springfield, Missouri. Moved to Muskogee at age 2.
EDUCATION: Cherokee Elementary, West Junior High, Muskogee High School, 1983.
PROFESSION: Repurposing furniture, baker, help out at Club Lunch.
FAMILY: Ex-husband, Joe; two sons, Auston and Christopher.
RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION: Christian/Lutheran.
HOBBIES: "I like to solder jewelry, garden, bake. I like to take industrial pieces and turn them into something decorative."