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Families volunteer to help parish feed thousands in annual picnic

Families volunteer to help parish feed thousands in annual picnic

July 22nd, 2019 by Gerry Tritz in News

People congregate in the gym to eat a chicken and roast beef dinner during Sunday's St. Stanislaus Parish Picnic in Wardsville. The parish feeds about 3,200 people at the annual event.

Photo by Gerry Tritz /News Tribune.

Sunday's St. Stanislaus Parish Picnic drew many from Mid-Missouri, feeding more than twice the number of residents in Wardsville.

The parish's largest fundraising event of the year was prepared to feed some 3,200 people, with about the same number of pounds of chicken and about 1,600 pounds of roast beef.

The event takes a well-coordinated and well-staffed effort, but one the church has honed over many decades.

At the heart of the planning process is a "work list" — a 15-page list of the duties needed to be done and the approximate 720 families who volunteer to fill the roles. Donna Bernskoetter, Vicky Niekamp and Linda Kleffner go over the list about two months before the event to update it. They seek commitments from previous workers and look to find new ones.

Just keeping updated phone numbers, with many people changing from land lines to cellphones in recent years, is a job in itself, said Kleffner, a fifth-generation member of the parish.

"It just takes many, many hours" to update the work list, she said.

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Like many long-time members of the parish, Bernskoetter is a lifelong member who started helping with the picnic when she waited tables at about the age of 12.

"There have been people who have said, 'Why don't we all just donate $100 a family and we don't have to have the picnic in the fall or summer,'" Bernskoetter said. "But you'd lose your sense of community. That's how you get to know people. You know them well and you work side by side, and that builds friendships that are ongoing."

"I think that's what keeps a parish being a parish, is the community involvement," Kleffner said. "If the only time you saw somebody is when you went to church, you wouldn't have that close-knit kind of family.

People come from miles away for not only the food, entertainment and quilt auction, but the fellowship, she said.

While the event's planning remains similar year after year, there's always room for tweaks, improvement or new additions.

About eight years ago, Bernskoetter realized the need for recycling at the event.

"There's so much at (church) picnics that gets pitched in the landfill," she said.

So she convinced the planning committee to start a recycling program at the picnic.

New World Recycling brings a trailer to the event. Workers at the event clean empty metal vegetable cans and put them into the trailer along with cardboard, beer cans, cooking oil cans and other recyclables.

"And we don't ask for any money for them. Anything that's in there, they get them. It's just a service," Bernskoetter said.

Event chairwoman Kristin Verslues said Bernskoetter is one of the "indispensable" event workers. "She's a great resource for anything I need," she said.

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However, like some others who are instrumental in the planning and execution of the picnic, Bernskoetter wasn't interested in talking about her specific contributions.

During an interview, Bernskoetter repeatedly changed the focus from herself to others. In response to questions, she would look around for other volunteers to talk to a reporter.

"Here's another longtime member of the parish," Bernskoetter said at one point, introducing a reporter to Earl Bruemmer, a 76-year-old and lifelong parishioner.

Bruemmer is involved in transporting the 1,600 pounds of roast beef served at the picnic. The job of cooking it started at 5:30 a.m., he said, and the Wardsville Lions Club lends a hand in helping with the logistics.

Another volunteer, Brad Schrimpf, started working at the event about 15 years ago when he poured water for the guests. He attributes the picnic's success to the community's work ethic.

"It's the type of people we've got here in Wardsville," he said. "Everybody's hard working. Everybody gets along really good. Everybody keeps their head down and works — that's the main thing."