Scott E. Burpee wasn’t too keen on spinach. But he loved peanut butter, English muffin pizzas, orange pop and a good prank. The best days started with hiding his brother Mike’s peanut butter and ended with sneaking enough pens off unsuspecting roommates to fill his pockets.
“Scotty is very, very funny and mischievous,” said local Lifeworks manager Raquel Sidie-Wagner.
“He was a really good dancer and thought he should dance with the staff at least once a day,” she said of Burpee, who had Down syndrome. “He wanted to drink coffee all day. Every day. … And he loved pens. He would sneak and collect them. At the end of the day, you’d ask him, ‘Scotty, have you got any pens?’ He’d reach in his pocket and take out a handful and say, ‘Oops.’ If there was ever a word cloud above Scotty, it would definitely be mischievous. And we loved him for it.”
Burpee, who worked for 33 years at J’s Restaurant in Burnsville, died July 2 from pneumonia. He was 57.
“Nobody expected this,” Sidie-Wagner said. Lifeworks, a nonprofit serving people with disabilities, was about to surprise Burpee with a tour of the Vikings training center in Eagan. “He would have been so excited. Scotty was a huge fan.”
Burpee was a fixture at J’s Restaurant, where customers and staff alike claimed him as family. Come April, everyone celebrated his birthday, complete with white cake with white or lemon icing, giggle-producing cards and, of course, Vikings gifts.
“Burpee was a big part of our life. He was family,” said Lora Dilly, co-owner of J’s. Until illness struck, Burpee faithfully walked the two blocks to work each day from his group home to run the dish operation.
“He was strong,” Dilly said. “And he was smart.”
Burpee took a while to get his meaning across with words, but the playful man was clear as sunshine when he liked someone. He’d strike the stance of an offensive lineman, utter “Hut! Hut! Make them lose!” Dilly recalled. “He’d go all the way around to try to tell what he meant.”
His joy touched people.
“He was a special one. I loved him. We all did. And he loved us right back. We are all going to miss Scotty,” said friend Donna Anderson, who has waitressed at J’s for 39 years.
She knew Burpee from the first day he and his job coach showed up to see if Burpee would like the job. He stuck to it like gravy to a plate, and he had standards, she said.
“Everything had to be real clean. I tell you, he really got that silverware sparkling,” Anderson said.
Burpee ate lunch daily at the same booth to the left of the front door. He sulked if a customer took it first.
“When I first started working there 22 years ago, I wanted to just love him up, and snuggle him up,” recalled Dilly. “But we were taught by his [case] worker that Down syndrome kids tend to work with structure. Elaine would tell me, ‘He will work so much better if you work with him this way.’ And she was right. If you explained that he must finish a task before break time or help in another way, he understood it. Failing that, he’d do anything for an orange pop,” Dilly said with a chuckle.
Burpee definitely had his favorites, she said.
When the group home sent him to work with one of its “good-for-you” sandwiches or casseroles, “he wouldn’t eat it. So we’d help him pick the spinach out of his sandwich … or we’d just make him lunch — English muffin pizzas with the cheese and the sausage on there. He loved those,” Dilly said. “He was a little rascal.”
Burpee is survived by his mother, Phyllis, brother Mike, stepmother, Jeanne Lachance and stepsiblings Cynthia Nelson, Sylvia Nelson, Trisha Nelson-Chetek and Douglas Nelson. Services have been held.