Sherry Toney has a gift for crafting recipes. She is a self-taught baker who honed her own recipe for sweet potato pies that she has sold in the Kerrytown farmers market for almost 30 years. Her renowned pie recipe has drawn her local fame and the nickname “The Pie Lady,” which she gladly accepts.
Toney works as a food service staff member at the Commons Café in Pierpont Commons. Similar to her moniker in Kerrytown, she’s known there as “the salad lady,” preparing the salad bar and making single-serving salads. She also works on the hot line serving lunch. She says the most rewarding thing about her job is interacting with the customers and the many students who show appreciation.
“There are a lot of students who really appreciate the hard work that we do to keep them happy,” Toney says.
In addition to her pie recipe, Toney says she has perfected her personal recipe for a happy life. She says it requires a good mix of ingredients, the happy and the sad, reality and the sublime. Toney has walked these lines throughout her life, making sure she always had a steady job to pay the bills and support her son, James, while making sure to follow her dreams at the same time.
One such dream was getting a strong education. After graduating from high school in Grand Rapids, Toney earned an associate’s degree in business from Grand Rapids Junior College. She then attended Grand Valley State College for two terms in 1976 and transferred as a junior to U-M, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in theater arts and a teaching certificate in communication.
Toney auditioned for various acting and modeling jobs throughout her college career. She was accepted to the master’s in theater program at the New York Academy of Fine Arts but couldn’t afford the tuition. Instead she went to theater school at Eastern Michigan University then decided to pursue her pie business because acting jobs were hard to come by.
“I tell people, ‘If you can’t find a job, you make one,’” Toney says of how she started her pie business. “I was applying for jobs everywhere, and when I graduated … the job market was kind of rough then. There were a lot of people who couldn’t find jobs. So I was looking at the newspaper one day and it said, ‘Do you have a business?’ So I drew a proposal and went to a meeting and got an $800 grant through the City of Ann Arbor.”
Toney also encourages her son to follow his dreams. He knew from a young age that he wanted to be a boxer and has gone on to be a five-time professional world champion. He almost gave up at age 17 when his manager was killed in a drive-by shooting, but Toney reminded him that he committed to this dream and to not give up.
As a single mother, Toney struggled to raise her son while she was still in college but always has worked hard to make sure both of them were provided for. She maintains a strong relationship with him today and still supports his boxing career.
From her own journey through her education and pursuing her passions in theater and baking, Toney has had many experiences that she readily shares with others to help guide them on their own pursuit of happiness.
“Follow your heart, do what you dream, follow your passion,” Toney says. “If you’re not successful at it, now you know; you need to go on to something else. But if you don’t do it there will always be a question in your mind.”
The weekly Spotlight features staff members at the university. To nominate a candidate, please contact the Record staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sherry Toney, food service staff member, Pierpont Commons Cafeteria, on the pursuit for happiness:“Follow your heart, do what you dream, follow your passion.”
Soprano Renee Fleming with Hartmut Holl, piano, 4-7 p.m. Jan. 16, Hill Auditorium, presented by the University Musical Society.