Men's group prepares for annual brunch
Palm Sunday meal is a 44-year tradition at St. Pius X Parish
By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor
Palm Sunday brunch is March 16
When: 9-11 a.m., March 16
Where: St. Pius X Church, 800 W. Marquette Ave., Appleton
Who: Cooked by the parish Men's Society
What: Ham, pancakes, hash browns, cinnamon rolls, fruit, coffee, milk, orange juice
Cost: $5 for adults; $15 for families; $2.50 children; under 5, free.
APPLETON -- On Palm Sunday weekend, many men prepare to take their family out to brunch on Sunday. But the Men's Society at St. Pius X Parish prepare to make brunch. For about 200 people.
Since 1964, the Men's Society has put on its Palm Sunday breakfast in the parish hall, between the two morning Masses. This year the event runs from 9-11 a.m. And this year's menu of ham, pancakes, eggs and potatoes has changed little in the past 44 years. (The sausage is the only thing missing from the early days.)
In 1964, the event made $63. Today, according to Leroy Kohlbeck, who has been Men's Society president since 1993, the breakfast makes a net profit of about $400.
"It's a tradition," he said of the brunch. "I think it's something the parish looks forward to."
Chris Mares, Men's Society treasurer since 1993, agrees. "We get a lot of compliments that people thanked us for putting it on. For a lot of the seniors it's an event they really look forward to."
Mares calls himself one of "the second generation" of the men's group. He says about half of the dozen or so men who work on Palm Sunday in the kitchen or on set-up in the dining room, are sons of men who founded the parish and the men's group in 1957.
They are also assisted on Palm Sunday by the Boy Scouts and the parish youth group, who help with serving and with cleaning and resetting the tables. For their efforts, the men give each group $200, which takes care of the profits on most years.
After so many years on the cooking circuit, the men have a system down. About a week before, Mares picks up the ingredients from four vendors around the area - such as cinnamon rolls from a local wholesale bakery and ham from the downtown family butcher.
Set-up usually takes place the night before, but this year the parish's Irish dinner will delay that a bit. Mares "pans up the cinnamon rolls" on Saturday, so they can rise by morning.
And then, on Sunday at 7 a.m., cooking begins.
"There are five men who do that," said Mares. "One person does the eggs, one does the baking of the cinnamon rolls, and three start the hash browns."
Mares admits that deciding how much to cook up can be a challenge - since turnout is unpredictable, especially if the weather doesn't cooperate - as it didn't in 1996 and 1999.
But any cooked food that's left over is donated to Emergency Shelters of the Fox Valley. And, at the suggestion of several wives, including Theresa Kohlbeck, any leftover cinnamon rolls are bagged up and sold after the 10:30 a.m. Mass. They always sell out.
Of course, there have been occasional glitches.
"A couple of times." Mares said, "when you plug too many appliances into the power strips - if you're not careful about it - you're expecting the coffee to be done or the ham to be warm in the Nesco and, well, it's not."
But, overall, the two say the event goes smoothly. Kohlbeck credits it to the dedication of the crew.
"I think everybody's got a real positive attitude," he said. "Everybody who's down there is working. There's isn't anybody who doesn't want to work. The people are very positive."
And, yes, that does include some of the women who help out selling tickets or pinch-hitting with some clean-up.
And Mares credits his wife, Mary, with helping get everything back where it belongs. She helps with funeral lunches, the parish picnic and the senior brunch in fall, and knows where things belong in the kitchen.
"We come in to use the utensils," said Mares, "and they need to go back where we got them from because, come Monday morning, the school lunch needs to find everything (in place)."
But the breakfast's cooking belongs to the men, who love it. And that includes their attitude about spending a spring holiday in the kitchen.
"I don't see it as giving up my Palm Sunday," said Mares. "I think it's more like a tradition. It is the prelude to Easter and it's giving to the parish and the members of the parish. So it's a positive. We have a lot of very good people who come and help out, and that's what makes it worthwhile - the people that help and the people that come to be served, to be guests."
Kohlbeck agreed. "It's an enlightening experience, with Easter coming in the background. Here you're looking at the Palm Sunday breakfast. Then, here's Easter. And then, it's spring."