Obituary: Norma Adams Sproull / Turned 'Three Rivers Cookbook' into multimillion-dollar fundraiser

Sept. 22, 1931 - Aug. 16, 2012


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Sometimes, a community cookbook is just a community cookbook.

In the hands of Norma Adams Sproull, however, the "Three Rivers Cookbook" became an international, multimillion-dollar enterprise.

Ms. Sproull chaired the first edition of the 1973 cookbook -- for which she oversaw the testing of 2,000 recipes, personally shopped to stores as far away as San Francisco, Calif., and Brussels, Belgium, and raised $3.7 million, and counting, for the Child Health Association of Sewickley.

"She would walk into stores and say 'You really need to have this cookbook,' " said her son, Edward Sproull, of Westfield, N.J. "When she took things on, she saw them all through."

Ms. Sproull, of Sewickley, died Thursday of complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She was 80.

Ms. Sproull was born in Bronxville, N.Y. -- the granddaughter of silent film star Dora Mills Adams and a descendent of presidents John and John Quincy Adams. She moved to Sewickley in 1969 when her husband, Edward Sproull, joined PPG Industries as vice president of taxation.

She conceived of the cookbook when the Child Health Association was looking for a fundraiser and made it a success with tireless drive and exacting detail. She commissioned the ink drawings for the book, for example, and decreed that none of the recipes would run over a page. When she traveled with her husband for his business trips, she always took a box of cookbooks along.

The "Three Rivers Cookbook" -- and three subsequent volumes -- have sold more than a million copies. They are still in print and are sold through the Child Health Association and other outlets.

At a 2004 event celebrating the 30th anniversary of the cookbook, others on the committee recalled Ms. Sproull's organizational capabilities.

"Norma has tremendous executive ability," said Pat Cavalier, who was president of the Child Health Association was the cookbook was proposed, at the 2004 event. "If she was CEO of US Airways, it wouldn't be leaving Pittsburgh."

On a DVD made for that event, Ms. Sproull recalled a visit to the New York headquarters of Ladies' Home Journal during which she was left alone in a room full of cookbooks from each state for a cookbook contest.

She fished through the Pennsylvania box and put the "Three Rivers Cookbook" at the top of the stack.

It went on to be featured in Ladies' Home Journal and to be named to the Southern Living Cookbook Hall of Fame.

A fantastic cook herself -- Mr. Sproull recalled that every Friday was crab night when the family lived in Baltimore -- several of Ms. Sproull's recipes ended up in the cookbook.

The egg nog recipe is actually from her husband, recalled her son, but she made it anonymous because she felt there was too much alcohol involved.

Ms. Sproull also spent a considerable amount of time in Jamaica, where she was at one time on the board of directors of the Plantation Inn, a legendary hotel once patronized by the likes of Winston Churchill and Ian Fleming.

Her father had been an investor in the Plantation Inn and had also built a strip of eight cottages in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, seven of which he sold to friends and one that he kept for his family.

Devoted to her family, Ms. Sproull would insist on annual Thanksgiving vacations for her children and grandchildren to the Caribbean, first to Jamaica and then to the island of Barbuda -- so remote that her son said "they had to chase the cows off the field" that served as the grassy landing strip.

Ms. Sproull was also a gifted seamstress, sewing some of her own clothing and giving informal lessons to others in Sewickley, and a golf and bridge enthusiast.

In addition to her son, she is survived by her daughter, Nancy Sproull Means, of Sewickley, and five grandsons. A private memorial service is planned for a future date.

Her wishes were that donations be sent to the Child Health Association of Sewickley, Brother's Brother Foundation or the Pittsburgh Food Bank.

obituaries

Anya Sostek: asostek@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1308.


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