Family serves traditional holiday meal diners gobble up
Some 250 people in Keshena are expected for Alvin J. Rathsack Memorial Dinner
By Joanne Flemming
Paul Rathsack of Shawano and his younger brother, Bernie of Appleton, will carry on a family tradition when they join the Knights of Columbus Kateri Tekawitha Council in hosting Thanksgiving dinner at St. Michael Parish in Keshena.
Some 250 people from Keshena, Neopit and the surrounding area are expected at the Alvin J. Rathsack Memorial Thanksgiving Day Dinner named for the brothers' father.
The meal was also inspired by similar Christmas and Easter dinners Terry and another brother, Ed, organized for 13 years in Appleton.
There will not be a 14th annual Christmas dinner this year because the brothers were unable to get the non-profit status they need to solicit donations.
Fr. Dave Barrett, St. Michael's pastor, suggested the Thanksgiving project. The Knights agreed if Paul would head up its organization.
As Paul began soliciting donations, his father died. "In his honor all the money collected at his funeral was donated towards our dinner," Paul said.
The dinner is a fitting memorial to his parents, whom he described as "very devout Catholics," and as a way of giving thanks "for instilling the Catholic faith in me."
It also recognizes the family talent for cooking. Paul and his siblings were raised in Appleton, where their mother worked at Elm Tree Bakery and St. Joseph School. After she and Alvin moved to Keshena in 1978, she cooked at St. Michael School and Keshena Middle School.
Alvin, janitor for St. Pius School in Appleton, cooked in summer for the drum and bugle corps to which his children belonged. Terry has been a chef at an Appleton-area country club and the Paper Valley Hotel and is now at the Farmhouse in Combined Locks. Ed, a member
of St. Edward Parish in Mackville, cooked for deer camps each fall and has a small catering business. Paul enjoys cooking at home.
He and Ed cooked a dozen 20-pound turkeys for the 2003 Thanksgiving dinner at Shawano's bakery, which invited volunteers to pick up leftover baked goods the evening before Thanksgiving. The items filled a truck, Paul said.
Some 25-30 volunteers served a traditional meal of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, vegetables and cranberry sauce to 120 people. Knights of Columbus wives made desserts.
Meals were delivered to 45 shut-ins. KAP Transport of Shawano provided rides.
This year, a committee from St. Anthony Parish in Neopit will give diners rides.
Paul attributed the success of the dinner to the generosity of individuals and businesses in Shawano, Keshena and Neopit.
Organizing the dinner, is "one way I can give back to the community for all the things I have. It makes me feel good knowing I've done something for someone, and I'm not asking for anything out of it," Paul said.
The Appleton dinners started when Terry and fellow Paper Valley Hotel chef Chuck Schuster, decided they wanted to give back to their community.
Ed, who organized an Easter dinner at the Appleton Moose Lodge the following spring, said he and his brother were concerned about the high rates of depression and suicide at Christmas. He helped Terry on the second Christmas dinner. Both dinners were carried out under the name "We Care."
The first Christmas dinner was cooked at the Paper Valley and transported to the food court in Appleton's downtown Avenue Mall. Only 30 people phoned in reservations and only four
volunteers said they were coming. But more than 400 diners and 125 volunteers showed up. Some guests began waiting at 8 a.m. for the 10:30 a.m. meal.
Terry wasn't worried about running out of food because he had ordered enough to feed 1,000, including 300 pounds of turkey, 250 of ham, 200 of vegetables and five cases of potatoes. Volunteers from the Fox Valley Culinary Association and area chefs helped cook.
Some 475 dinners were delivered to the homebound. Each delivery had enough food for two or three meals, Terry said. Volunteers making the deliveries were asked to eat at least dessert with the families.
The second year more than 1,100 diners and 250 volunteers were at the Christmas dinner. That number got as high as 1,600 and additional Christmas dinners were served one year in Hortonville and for four years in Darboy.
After four years, the dinners were moved from the Avenue Mall to the Moose Lodge, site of the Easter dinners.
Appleton florists donated poinsettias at Christmas and students from Catholic grade schools made Christmas stockings and Easter baskets filled with candy. The extras were given
to nursing homes, Ed said.
This Christmas, Terry, Ed and family members will cook for homebound friends they have made at the dinners. In spring Ed will try to get donations for his Easter dinner. Next winter, they will try for another Christmas dinner.
The brothers put on the dinners because the people who come "were just so grateful to have someone to sit with and talk to," Terry said.
"It's not just the idea of the meal," Ed said. "It's the companionship, the opportunity to spend time out with people."
It's doing "as Jesus told us to give back. 'Those that you feed, you feed Me,'" Terry said.