There may not have been nary a cookie crumb left at the Yaegle home in Youngsville, Pa., by the time Santa Claus made his Christmas Eve stop, but it’s likely he was treated to the family’s homemade goodies at dozens of other houses in the Western Pennsylvania region.
Just days before Christmas, St. Bonaventure University senior Joe Yaegle had his own band of elves elbow deep in cookie dough for hundreds of peanut butter blossoms, spritzes and snickerdoodles. His parents, Tom and Marianne Yaegle, and his girlfriend, SBU senior Jessica Miller of Niagara Falls, donned aprons all in the name of sweet rewards for Yaegle’s yearly Christmas cookie bake sale.
This past bake sale was Yaegle’s sixth: The first was when he was 16 and hoping to raise some extra cash to buy himself new golf clubs. At the time he was working at the Valley Bowling Center in town. When he learned right before Christmas about a bowling league member’s house being destroyed in a fire, he changed his plans.
“I thought the best thing I could do was give her the extra cash in hopes that she and her family could have a happy Christmas, too,” Yaegle said. That year he made about 80 dozen cookies — and sold them all in about 20 minutes.
A new Yaegle family Christmas tradition was born.
"It became a tradition in our house for two reasons really. First, it’s pretty fun to bake in the Yaegle household. We play music, joke around with each other, and we just really enjoy each other’s company. My family has always been incredibly close, so having a group project to work on is just a great way for us to spend time together. Plus, we get all the joy of baking Christmas cookies with a lot less of the calories that come from eating them,” Yaegle said.
Second, Yaegle said, he likes to be able to donate money to a worthy cause.
“Whether it’s through charitable donations or actual service work, I really like to give back to others and the environment. I’ve always felt like an extremely fortunate person, and I wish other people could be as fortunate as me. To have a loving, supportive unit of family and friends and all the opportunities you ever need to be successful in what you do is one of the greatest things in the world. I realize that not everyone has that, and it doesn’t seem right to me. I want to do all I can to change it. What better time than at Christmas?” he said.
The 2014 bake sale benefitted a Warren County family and their dream of a trip to Disney. One member of the family is facing a debilitating illness, and friends started a fund to help the family take a trip together.
“I feel like I can relate to the man in that I also have pretty big dreams and goals ahead of me, but I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a time limit on them. So, I did what I could,” Yaegle said.
What Yaegle could do was bake 1,400 holiday cookies.
“I sold every single cookie this year, which is the first time that has happened since my first year at it. I think it speaks a lot to the strength of that community, how much a dream means to people, and how easy it is to do something good for another person,” he said.
Baking 120 dozen cookies is easy?
“All of our feet are sore by the end of the day, but that’s a small price to pay when you’re helping someone out. Plus, I love to bake. It comes pretty natural to me, and I think it’s a lot of fun,” he said.
He has been baking cookies and pastries since he was 11 or 12, and breads are actually his favorite goody to make.
This year he started mixing dough Dec. 20 for the peanut butter blossoms, chocolate crinkles, chocolate chip, Oreo truffles, almond and vanilla spritzes, pecan tassies and snickerdoodles. Dec. 22 was a daylong bake-a-thon followed by the sale Dec. 23 at Warren General Hospital, where his mother works.
“This year I didn’t have any left for Santa, which is a good thing because I was able to donate more money to my cause. And the extras usually go to my grandmothers anyway,” he said.
Santa Claus’ stomach aside, Yaegle says it’s been important for him to continue this tradition, just as it’s important for institutions like St. Bonaventure to emphasize service and social justice.
“What it boils down to for me is pretty simple,” Yaegle said. “People need each other for everything. It’s hard to make it through a day without relying on someone to talk with, help with a project, or even go to dinner with. Some people will need more than others. And I don’t think it matters what your (religious) beliefs are. You should believe that you owe it to yourself and to others to lend a helping hand. This planet won’t keep turning without a little extra love.”
St. Bonaventure has helped him understand what type of person he wants to be.
“When I took the Good Life (course), we talked about social responsibility quite a bit. And when I took Religious Texts, we talked about the life of Jesus. And those have been two of the most important lessons I received here. My moral philosophy, despite my noticeable lack of religion, is to ‘love everybody,’” he said.
Yaegle wakes up every day and sees those words posted on a piece of paper in his room. It’s important to him to help those who have less than him, but just as important to give to those who have more than him.
“I try as hard as I can to treat others fairly, kindly, and with love, in hopes that they might return the favor to me or to others. And maybe, one day, more people will think like that. If all schools were teaching that, I think there would be no limits on what their graduates could do for themselves and the world,” he said.
Two years ago, Yaegle had the opportunity to pay it forward to a fellow SBU student.
Late in the fall semester of Yaegle’s sophomore year, Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast, decimating thousands of homes, including that of fellow St. Bonaventure student Ryan Lazo. Yaegle credits Lazo as one of the people who helped him adjust to life at college. He admits he had a rough freshman year, but Lazo’s friendship on the Orientation Team helped him through some difficulties.
“I’ve always thought that people in a place are what define that place, and if that really is true, then SBU is the greatest place on Earth,” said Yaegle.
The sport studies major keeps busy working on three minors — Spanish, biology and business administration — in anticipation of his May graduation. An Orientation Team leader for three years, Yaegle can also be found giving campus tours as an Admissions Ambassador or in Falconio Hall where he’s a resident assistant to freshmen.
Back home, he works as an assistant professional at Jackson Valley Golf Course. His love of golf spurred him to apply to the Golf Academy of America in Myrtle Beach, S.C., with a goal of becoming a PGA-certified professional.
About the University: The nation’s first Franciscan university, St. Bonaventure University cultivates graduates who are confident and creative communicators, collaborative leaders and team members, and innovative problem solvers who are respectful of themselves, others, and the diverse world around them. Named the #3 best college value in the North by U.S. News and World Report, we are establishing pathways to internships, graduate schools and careers in the context of our renowned liberal arts tradition. Our students are becoming extraordinary.
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