They put the fun in fund-raising

By | June 23, 2010


Dale and Mary Berken (Tom Kelly | For The Compass)

“We do everything together,” adds Mary. “We get everything ready for the volunteers to come in and do it. We have the health and abilities to help, but without the help of others we couldn’t do anything. We all need our helpers.”

That, in a nutshell, is the inspiring message the Berkens are living out from one delicious plate of perch to the next: When it comes to serving God, wonderful things can happen when people with a wide variety of skills and talents are interconnected.

“With good help, you can accomplish anything,” says Dale.

Over their 55 years of marriage — all of them in community with St. Mary Parish — Dale and Mary have made a lot of friends through these events; as well as ushering, working in the St. Mary Central School cafeteria, serving through the Home School Association — plus underpinning the Knights of Columbus monthly fish fry since 1987.

When a reporter mentions his favorite fish fry, Mary responds with a smile. “Oh, don’t go there. Ours is the best. We have perch, haddock, pike, shrimp and bluegill, but I think a lot (of people) come for the German potato salad.”

Your Catholic Neighbor

Name: Dale and Mary Berken

Parish: St. Mary, Menasha

Age: Dale: 80; Mary: 79

Favorite saint: Blessed Virgin Mary

Words to live by: “Don’t thank us. Thank God.”

Held from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. on the second Friday of each month at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Menasha, the fish fry is regularly enjoyed by more than 200 satisfied diners.

The Berkens get all the food and prepare the do-aheads, like potato salad and tartar sauce. They organize volunteers to fry the fish and serve the dinners. During the fish fry, Mary seats guests at their tables.

“Other volunteers can’t keep up with them,” says Jean Sell, bookkeeper at St. Mary Parish. “I see them working on a chicken dinner here while they’re also getting the Knights of Columbus fish fry together and think, ‘Holy cats! How do they do it?’ They go, go, go. Everyone wonders how they do it. Since their kids were small, they’ve demonstrated long-lasting dedication and commitment. It’s healthy to be an active volunteer.”

Dale laughs. “In between we don’t really do anything else — just talk to people.”

Mary says there are nights when she lies awake concerned that something for a fund-raising event might get overlooked. “That’s when I get out the rosary. I love it — and it calms me back to sleep.”

She and Dale also pray the rosary with others before daily Mass, then stay for a devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

With the passing years, the Berkens have recruited many volunteers, including their own children and grandchildren. “We’re getting older and it’s a lot of running — a lot of running,” Mary notes. “If we forget something, then it’s extra running. We’re lucky to have so many good helpers. We need them. That’s why we keep trying.”

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