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February 1, 2013

Ann Elizabeth Coomer, co-founder of Ann’s By The River in Jeffersonville, dies at 74

JEFFERSONVILLE — Recipes for simple, home-cooked delicacies have made their way into the fourth and fifth generations of hands after the death of Ann's By The River’s co-founder on Thursday.

Ann Elizabeth Coomer died at the age of 74 on Jan. 31. She and her husband, Ken, opened the cafeteria-style restaurant in 1991, serving up food like her mother’s and grandmother’s, making sure no one left hungry.

Her son, Dave, helps run the restaurant now. He said though Ann put in long days, hard work and tireless effort into her place on the corner of Spring and Market streets in Jeffersonville, her passion for cooking was deep-rooted.

“I had times where she’d stay so long and her legs and feet would swell up, so I’d have to carry her out of there,” Dave said. “She just loved that place.”

Dave said Ann was particular about every detail, down to how the spoons were set up at the beginning of the line for customers. More important, he said, was the food.

“Everything was made from scratch and still is,” Dave said. “She wouldn’t cut any corners for anything. Dad was taking care of the money making sure he could pay for anything, but they didn’t care what it cost. They just wanted to make sure that they could make everything the best they could.”

Ann’s granddaughter, Morgan, makes desserts at Ann’s now. She takes after her grandmother by coming up with new recipes and seeing how they fare with newcomers and regulars.

She said Ann had a good time with cooking, but she especially took pride when people enjoyed what she made.

“She really loved the people and making the food,” Morgan said. “She loved to create recipes, make food and make everybody happy. She loved for everybody to eat her food.”

Ann and her husband, Ken, were married for 57 years. He said the down-home atmosphere and menu brought in old-timers who remembered those kinds of dinners and their families.

“I think a lot of the older people were raised on that kind of food, but it’s so much different than going to get some kind of hamburger,” Ken said. “When we opened, we had a meal for $3.95, a meat and two vegetables. When we first opened, they were lined around the building.”

Dave said he remembered winning a chili cookoff with Ann at Churchill Downs and how she fed people who came in off the street, even if they couldn’t afford the tab.

“One thing she always did was ... serve people without money, she wouldn’t charge them,” Dave said. “She was just goodhearted. She wouldn’t ever turn anybody away.”

In the last 10 years of her life, Ken said Ann had a series of health issues. A car accident left doctors believing she’d never be able to walk again, but she got back on her feet. She survived a bout of lymphoma which left her unable to work, but he said her battle with dementia was the one she lost.

But Ken said by passing down family recipes to Dave and her other two sons, Rodney and John, the regulars at the restaurant could swear she’s still in the kitchen.

“I think she taught the boys well,” Ken said. “People say the food is as good as it was 20 years ago, a lot of them have been around that long, you know.”

From running off to get married in Gatlinburg, Tenn., to raising their three boys and opening the restaurant she loved, Ken said he’s had a lifetime of happiness with Ann.

“We’ve had some awful good times and awful good memories,” Ken said. “I’m going to miss that old lady, I tell you I am.”

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