Parishioners of St. Ann Parish in Owasco know full well how much wisdom lies in the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
That’s why they have relied on their annual chicken dinner as the parish’s main fundraiser for at least 60 years, said longtime parishioner Anna Flanigan.
To be sure, the dinner has undergone a few changes since it first began around 1947, she said, but most of those changes were made in the fundraiser’s early years. Parishioners who flocked to the church July 25 for the annual chicken barbecue probably found it very similar in format to the parish barbecues they attended 50 years ago, Flanigan said.
The late-1940s version of the fundraiser was actually a chicken-and-biscuit dinner, which was held each year on the Sunday after Labor Day at Camp Columbus on Owasco Lake, she said. After a few years, parishioners made some improvements to the church’s basement and began holding the dinners on the church grounds, she noted.
Shortly after the dinner moved to the church grounds, parishioners decided to ditch the chicken-and-biscuit menu in favor of a chicken barbecue, since barbecues were just starting to become popular, Flanigan said.
“We were one of the first among area churches that started having barbecues,” said Flanigan, who first began volunteering at the barbecues about 50 years ago.
“My mother was involved before me, and I just followed along. My whole family did,” she said.
Flanigan was one of more than 30 people who volunteered to help this year’s barbecue run smoothly, said Charlene Murray, chair of the barbecue-planning committee.
“I help because I want St. Ann’s to keep going, and I think that’s the way most people feel. If you belong to St. Ann’s for any length of time … you take part. It’s a small church and I think that with small churches everyone just pitches in,” Flanigan said.
Committee members are still tallying the barbecue’s proceeds and paying a few bills, but so far it seems the fundraiser was a success, Murray said.
Proceeds from last year’s barbecue totalled approximately $6,000, and organizers hope this year’s event will match that amount, said committee member Roberta Bellnier, who estimated that more than 1,000 people attended the barbecue.
“We buy 1,000 chicken halves and we always sell out,” Bellnier said.
This year’s, barbecue, which as usual began at 11 a.m., was no exception.
“It was 10 minutes after 2 p.m. and we were out of chicken,” Murray said. “We always sell out, but there are always people who are disappointed when they don’t get chicken. You feel bad for the people who come later, but you feel good for the volunteers, because they don’t have to work later.”
Late-comers weren’t out of luck entirely. They still were able to buy hot dogs, hamburgers and the other dinner fixings — buttered salt potatoes, baked beans with bacon, rolls, drinks and desserts. They also could buy cakes from a cake booth or take a chance on some of the gift certificates and donated goods being raffled.
“We had $50 gift certificates, we had 18 holes of golf with carts and lunch. We had quite a bit, actually,” said Murray, who solicited donations from 30 local merchants, including restaurants, hotels and florists.
Adults also could enter their names into another raffle for a chance to win cash prizes of $100, $500 or $1,000, and children could take advantage of games and activities set up specifically for them. Most barbecue-goers lingered to talk to new and old friends and listen to music provided by the local Soda Ash Six Dixieland Jazz Band.
“We had a good crowd and we had a beautiful day,” Bellnier said. She paused and then said she actually can’t remember a time when the weather wasn’t beautiful on the day of the barbecue.
“We’re lucky. Somebody’s on our side,” she said.
Perhaps the one who is looking out for the parish is a saint, literally.
“St. Ann is the patron saint of our parish, so (the barbecue) is held on the Sunday closest to her (July 26) feast day,” Bellnier said.
The day of the barbecue starts with 9 a.m. Mass for most of the volunteers, who stay at the church from the time they arrive for Mass until cleanup is finished once the barbecue concludes in the afternoon, Murray said. Although that makes for a long and tiring day, volunteers still look forward to the barbecue each year.
“Our church is very small and we’re a close-knit group. We really like the community spirit of the whole thing. We really do it for the community, all of us getting together and working together,” Murray said.
Parish volunteers also work hard to put on the barbecue each year because they know it’s become a community staple, even for those outside St. Ann Parish, Flanigan added.
“You get people around the village (who) look forward to it, even though they may not go to St. Ann’s,” Flanigan said. “They’ll come over after their own service to get their chicken. It’s a community thing, really.”