Community Ladies Aid serves 'The Last Supper'
Without a trace of irony, the (Deerfield) Community Ladies Aid discontinued its primary function in style Saturday, serving what they billed as "The Last Supper."
The 50th annual Harvest Supper ended an era of service and camaraderie in a township so small, it was impossible to carry on the tradition.
"We can't get any of the younger generation interested in it," said Ladies Aid member Bonnie VanBuren. "It's a lot of work at a busy time of year."
You could call them the "Sisterhood of the French Silk Pies."
Many churches have ladies aid groups but a community-based organization has become somewhat of a rarity, said historian Michelle Holden. "To my knowledge there's not another Community Ladies Aid in the state," she added. The Ladies Aid will continue in some form, but the Harvest Suppers won't.
So the dozen plus women, many of whom were born and grew up within a mile of the Deerfield Town Hall, put on their aprons and got to work. They have served between 500-600 in the town hall building no larger than a living room. The nearest "big town" is Backus. Saturday the final number of diners was around 450.
A line started forming shortly after 2:30 p.m. for the 3 p.m. serving.
Maybelle Kriens has worked each of the 50 dinners. Saturday she was sporting a corsage on her apron.
Her face flushed with steam from the kitchen, she was in good spirits. So was Helen Dwire, also a veteran of 50 years and wearing a corsage.
"I spent 30 years in the dining room and then was promoted to potatoes," Maybelle Kriens joked. "My goal was to get promoted to dishwasher but I never made it."
The 2011 Harvest Supper served 10, 22-pound turkeys, 80 pounds of dark turkey meat, eight turkey breasts, 150 pounds of ham, 15 gallons of gravy, 50 pounds of shredded cabbage salad and "who knows" how many pounds of mashed potatoes and corn.
Boiled rutabagas, home canned pickles, dinner rolls, stuffing and pickled beets filled out the menu.
Then there was the pie table, resplendent with French silk pies, custard pies, pumpkin, apple, lemon and other seasonal offerings.
"Are the pies as good as last year?" asked Sonny Stephan. "This is the best pie," he whispered. "Last year I tried to con her out of a whole pie but she said I could only have one piece," he said of Becky Richards, A.K.A. the Pie Lady.
Outside the hall, a 50-gallon waste bin of squash for sale is overflowing at $2 apiece.
A good will offering of $10 per plate is suggested. The proceeds are all donated to local First Responders, the needy, service members and families, fire victims and any other cause the women can find. Annually the Harvest Supper raises around $3,000, said co-chair Robin Kriens.
"White or dark meat?" asked Tena Odens as she worked the buffet line. Odens has been working the event since she was 12.
"I started out scrubbing floors," said Deloris Lamb, who grew up down the street from the town hall in western Cass County.
"This isn't a homemakers club," Holden said. "It's one way to bring a lot of people together."
But as the community spreads out, Holden said it got harder and harder to track recipients.
"We don't know who might be sick" or needy, she said. "It's not hard to give money away" but the ladies want to make sure it benefits residents.
"It's been a good thing for the community of Deerfield," said Margaret Lindahl, a veritable rookie with 15 years of service.
Robin Kriens couldn't remember if this was her 26th or 27th year. She and niece Jayden Vredenburg were presiding over "Noel's Nook," a tiny corner table stacked with baked goods for sale, in memory of a member who passed away of cancer.
"My son said it should be a national holiday," Robin Kriens said of the Harvest Supper. "He's 27 and has been to 26 (suppers). One year he had to go to a wedding and he wasn't happy" about the timing.
Kriens spent Friday baking 14 rhubarb crème pies.
The event starts promptly at 3 p.m. Inside the town hall, the women are working with military precision.
"Are we ready?" asks Gladys Vredenburg, the grand dame of the festivities. The door is thrown open and a steady stream of people pass through.
But no closing time is ever listed for the event.
"We have a farmer and his wife that come in," Robin Kriens said. "We know when they come we're pretty much done serving."
That's about 8 p.m.
Maybe next year there will be some nostalgia from the Community Ladies Aid when Harvest Supper time rolls around.
But for now, a collective sigh of relief is the mood. Asked if anyone will miss the annual get-together, a chorus of "NOs!" echoes through the room.
"Fifty years is a pretty good run," Holden said.