Jim Mercer, Luke Critchelow and Bobby Henning are three of the several volunteers who fried fish on Sept. 3, 2021. COURTESY OF TONY MEDLEY
St. Anthony the Abbot fish fries renew community, raise funds
BY TONY MEDLEY, SPECIAL TO THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
Re-establishing a sense of community inspired the small, 200-family St. Anthony the Abbot Parish in the Axel/Rough River area to renew its summer fish fries.
For years, parish members hosted fish fries from Memorial Day to Labor Day every Friday, but as the volunteer force grew older it became more difficult to maintain that yearly momentum. So the difficult decision to cancel was made.
Fast forward 10 years, bring in three determined ladies to make it work, throw in a few dozen volunteers along with countless teenagers and a success story happened.
Gale Hinton, along with sisters Terry Lawson and Vicky Edelen, hatched this idea to revive the summer events in light of the COVID-19 cancellations of the annual picnics in 2020 and 2021.
“The picnic is always a good social event for the parish and surrounding lake community,” said Hinton. And the social aspect has been greatly missed.
“So it was a natural draw for us to do this,” she said.
This was echoed strongly by Lawson and Edelen who felt the spirit of community was the most important element needed at this time. All three ladies noted the money raised would be a real plus in light of no picnic income.
“This was a good opportunity for the parish to bring everyone together and get more people involved,” stated the new pastor, Fr. Shaiju Thomas.
“We needed 25 volunteers and 8-12 teenage runners each week,” said Edelen. “This is what made it work.”
Lawson stated, “Because all three of us had some food service background, we knew fish fries were a natural for us and the parish. Besides, our folks have really missed these fish fries.”
Having a carry-out only event would be a challenge for reviving the fellowship, but the volunteers could feel the spirit. With that, the final fish fry on Sept. 3 was heavily advertised and Dean Heckel, a Louisville musician, entertained. This encouraged a couple hundred patrons to enjoy the meal and music under the pavilion.
Parishioner Monica Jarboe feels these events were such a positive thing.
“We were just brought together, and have gotten to know some of the new parish members, which is what we needed,” she said. “I want this to continue. I am such a people person, and I enjoy meeting others.”
Several lake patrons commented about the spirit of the events. Stephanie Hix commented how much she has enjoyed coming back, and how much she missed the old fish fries. Bart Dye and Kathy Holderbaum of Louisville said, “Best price, great meal for a wonderful community event.”
Dcn. Mike Wiedemer noted his goal was to bring people together because of the absence of picnics. Of course, “raising some money was in there too. And we went way beyond that because of contributions and the many volunteers,” he said.
After a trial run, the last five events averaged 441 adult dinners, not including children’s meals.
The team of Hinton, Lawson and Edelen know improvements can be made and are already planning for next summer.
Hinton noted she wasn’t sure how it would shake out, but, “I was pleasantly surprised as to the volunteers and the outcome.”
Originally printed in the October 2021 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.