Story by Reagan Scott
Photo slideshow by Don Osentowski
YORK (SNR) - What does it take to run a successful fish fry? It takes a lot of fish, a lot of volunteers and a lot of heart. Now in its 17th year of operation, it’s obvious that those at St. Joseph Parish in York have proven that they have what it takes.
At St. Joseph, the annual fish fry begins the Friday before Ash Wednesday and ends the Friday before Good Friday.
The menu consists of deep-fried Pollock (hand-breaded using a secret recipe), coleslaw and scalloped potatoes served with diners’ choice of water, tea or coffee.
The event runs from 5 to 7:30 p.m. and prices are $8 for adults, $4 for kids 4 to 11 years old and free for children younger than 4.
Every week, the volunteers help to serve about 960 meals on average, which is no small feat according to Joe Morris, one of the yearly volunteers at the fish fry.
“Almost 1,000 people may show up, and there are 8,000 citizens in York. That’s a lot of people we are able to serve,” Morris said.
According to Bob Weiler, one of the original founders of the parish fish fry, volunteers have served as many as 1,100 people on a given night.
“Most of the crowd comes from within a 50-mile radius, but we have had people come from as far away as Omaha,” Weiler said. “We have flyers posted at motels on the interstate and have had people come who were traveling from Indiana and Arizona.”
To serve so many people, the fish fry runs like a well-oiled machine. There are six different locations that food is prepared and served in throughout the school.
In the main gym, there is a serving line and seating for 300 people. There is also a second serving line for carry-out orders and second servings, as well as a dessert table provided by the Altar Society.
A small kitchen off of the gym has condiments, the stage in the gym holds roasters for potatoes, and in the kitchen, volunteers can fry anywhere from 600 to 800 pounds of fish on a Friday night, using five deep-fat fryers.
Lastly, the fish fry utilizes an alley on the north side of the school to serve drive-through customers. Weiler said about 50 percent of the fish fry’s business is done using the drive through, with the other half occurring in the main dining area in the gym.
Despite the fact that the fish fry seems to have so many working parts, the volunteers all know what they need to do to keep the event running smoothly.
“It’s so unbelievable because we get all of this set up after 2:30 p.m.,” Weiler said.
It isn’t until the end of the school day on Friday afternoon that volunteers can begin breading fish for the fish fry and set up for the event in the evening. Without willing participants, it would be even harder to get the job done.
Each year an average of 350 St. Joseph’s parishioners volunteer at the fish fry, an impressive number for a parish of 415 families.
“Every year you can count on people to be there and be a part of it,” Morris said. “People will call and ask if they can help.”
The fish fry also receives lots of help from the women religious serving the parish.
“From day one the priests and sisters have been involved with the fish fry,” Weiler said.
Of course, none of the parish’s success would have been possible without the hard work of Bob Weiler, Abe Sleddens and Jim Larkin, who helped to get the project going.
The fish fry originated in 2001 to raise more money for the parish when Father Leo Seiker was the pastor. Today, the fish fry has become something that has made a tremendous impact on the community.
“Credit needs to go to the founders, they’re the foundation and pillars of the fish fry,” Morris said. “They had the vision to put it together.”
Over the years Weiler has been able to see the original vision of the fish fry come to fruition.
“It’s been a big project, but it’s certainly been worth it,” Weiler said.
With the help of tireless volunteers, the parishioners at St. Joseph are sure to see continued success in the years to come.
On why he thought the fish fry was so successful, Morris’s answer was simple, “It is a good meal at a fair price, and people love the fish!”
St. Joseph Church in York was dedicated in 1998, replacing a church built in 1879. Msgr. James Reinert is pastor and Father Dennis Hunt, who serves as chaplain of the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women in York, is in residence at the parish.