Bill Verbryke of Elmore enjoying a meal at a recent fish fry.
St.Boniface Catholic Parish found that its famous all-you-can-eat fish fry had become so popular it had outgrown the undercroft beneath the church. Its new venue in the school gymnasium reflects how the event has grown and changed over the years.
The fish fry started in 2005 as a necessary fund raiser to help St. Boniface School meet expenses. Each Friday during Lent they served about 250 dinners of fish with a side of cole slaw. As the menu expanded their reputation spread and the crowds of customers grew. The undercroft was just too small to comfortably accommodate the serving of 500 meals a night.
“It’s more comfortable for our customers and much easier for the servers to clear tables and bring around drinks,” said chairman Ann Johnson. “Also, it’s much more convenient for people needing room for highchairs or wheelchairs. We want people to have a fun, pleasant fish fry experience, and this really does it.”
Eli Karl, teacher Brenda Brahier, Josh Johnson and Austin Drill man the pop stand run by students at the fish fry.
It’s not only in size that the fish fry that has grown. It has evolved from a school-focused fund raiser run by parents to an event that brings the whole parish together, and draws in and welcomes the entire community. True to its origins, everyone in the school family helps out, from Pumpkin (the big orange tabby that is the school’s unofficial mascot) greeting customers in the parking lot to principal Milagros Greggila pouring coffee and chatting with the diners. Students and parents clear tables while teachers take a turn in the serving line.
Volunteer April Berlin looks on while Josh Johnson tries to choose a dessert.
“It really is a lot of fun; a lot of work, but a lot of fun,” said Principal Greggila. “It’s nice to see and talk to parents and outside of the school day, to keep in touch with members of the community and really to see the students stepping up and having fun while working hard and knowing they are doing something important. Someday they will be the leaders in their communities, and this is where it starts.”
The event has grown beyond simply being a school fundraiser.
Long time customers Don Masnado and granddaughter Ailish Masterson look forward to the fish frys every year.
“It’s not just about the money,” says head “Friar” Pete Johnson. “It’s about guy time, family time. We have volunteers of all ages working, from five year olds setting tables to retired parishioners taking dinners to the homebound. Beyond that, it’s really become a community outreach ministry. When you look out to the dining area, that’s not just St. Boniface parishioners, it’s become a gathering place for the whole community on Fridays; a great meal and a lot of fun.”
One night a group of Oak Harbor high school students dropped in to perform a number from their spring musical “All Shook Up”. Another Friday, St. Boniface students had a “Wax Museum” that had famous people from Galileo and Annie Oakley entertaining waiting customers. On April 4 local author Ki Jadwisiak will do a benefit book signing.
Silas McHale enjoys his first fish fry along with his dad, Aaron McHale.
There is fun and fellowship, but a fish fry all comes down to the food. The dinners have come a long way from those first meals of fish and coleslaw. Today the menu boasts both fried and baked fish, roasted potatoes, French fries, mac and cheese, hush puppies and a salad and dessert bar, in addition to coffee and fruit punch.
“There’s such a wide variety of food, it’s hard to make room for it all,” said diner Bill Verbryke of Elmore.”
“Opening it up like this makes it more relaxing,” said long-time customer Don Masnado. “It’s a great thing to bring a community together, and for such a great cause.”
“And you can’t beat the mac and cheese,” added his granddaughter, Ailish Masterson.
The St. Boniface fish fries continue every Friday through April 11, 4-7 p.m. at 215 Oak Street, Oak Harbor. Prices are $9 for adults, $6 for children under 12. Ages 5 and under eat free.