The Delia community is mourning for an icon of the small village and the legacy he created.
Onruf Luke, the proprietor of Luke’s in Delia, passed away on October 26 at the age of 89. He immigrated to Canada from China in 1951 to join his father. They came to Paradise Valley and then Barrhead before they settled in Delia in 1957 and opened the Delia Coffee Bar. The family and the cafe quickly became a mainstay in the community.
Bob Sargent has been a patron since attending school, and it has continued into adulthood.
“I’m 66, and I remember going there in elementary school, so probably when I was 10,” he said. “When I was a young kid in elementary when you got a hamburger, it was in between two slices of bread.”
“Luke was Delia,” he said, noting that where ever he would go and mention Delia, others would mention the cafe.
“I’m a farmer so I would go there for my morning coffee,” said Sargent. He adds it was their ritual to go to Luke’s when they finished planting, and then again when they would finish harvest.
He said Luke's nephew, Kar, for the last few years has been running the kitchen, but even as Luke has health issues, he would come in the afternoon.
As many times as Sargent would go to Luke’s, there was a coffee klatch of regulars.
“If you went in the morning and sat in one of their chairs, you were in trouble,” he laughs. “Ralph Whitman used to say if they didn't have anything new by 9 o'clock they would start up a story.”
In 1970, Luke and his father, Charlie, travelled back to China and came home with his bride Mai Yim Leung. They had three sons and a daughter.
The original cafe was where the Community Centre now sits, and they took over the former Legion building for the restaurant. Luke also successfully opened the Delia General Store in 1981 and ran it until 2002.
Mayor Dave Sisley recognizes how important Luke’s was to the community.
“They come from all over to go there,” said Sisley. They have the best liver and onions anywhere.”
“We are all wondering what is going to happen, but that will be up to the family. It would be a huge loss if they shut it down.”
Dave Marshall’s memories go back to high school. He remembers Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime,” blaring from the juke box.
“He’s a legacy for that town and that community, and a staple for the farmers. He is going to be missed,” said Marshall.
“The school kids are going to miss him too, even at present. We would all go there at lunch hour and play pinball, and if you had too many free games of pinball, you were late for class.”
Marshall also remembers burgers coming on regular bread, and that is still the most popular way to order it today.
“Myself, I have it on the bread.”
He remembers at the original location, you would look back into the kitchen, and Charlie would be cooking up a storm with flames coming out of the stove up to two feet high.
“You didn’t want to mess with him or he would take the cleaver to you!” laughs Marshall. “A credit to his family, not only did they work hard, they were there and put in the long hours.”
He also said Luke would be there for his patrons. If the banks were closed and you needed to cash a paycheck, he would dig deep into his pocket.
While he lives in Drumheller now, Marshall says he gets there about once a month, and along with his burger, he orders a Pepsi.
“I can remember in the 1960s and 1970s, the big kids in Grade 12 or just graduated, like Jim Anderson or Kenny Friedley would order a bottle of Pepsi. It seemed to be the popular drink then. But I asked Kar about six months ago, what they sell more of, Pepsi or Coke? He said Delia has always been a Pepsi town, I sell 3-1 Pepsi over Coke.”
“He’s one of a kind, he is going to be missed. It’s too bad but all things change in small towns.”