Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Feb. 17, 2012
50 years of pancakes
When husband Art and I opened the door to Manhattan's historic Community House a couple of Saturdays ago, the smell of pancakes and sausages wafted out to greet us. The combination of breakfast aromas, the building's warmth and the chatter of people having a good time made me feel at home immediately.
And seeing old friends just added to the feeling. They greeted us heartily.
"Hi, Gloria, how are you today? And Art, it's good to see you!"
We were at the Manhattan Sertoma Club's Ground Hog Day Pancake Feed.
But it wasn't just any feed ... it was the 50th anniversary of the annual fund-raising event. The club's name is a contraction of "SERvice TO MAnkind," and its goal is to raise money to support speech and hearing programs and many other community organizations.
We were directed to the line at the far end of the room. There, members efficiently did their part while kidding each other about one thing or another. One person poured pancake flour and other ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Then the electric mixer whirred into action. At the next few tables, volunteers were brushing oil on the four large griddles. Then a gadget that looked something like an old-fashioned flour sifter squirted just the right amount of batter with each pull of the handle to make perfect six-inch pancakes. When bubbles formed throughout the pancakes, they were flipped over and cooked a bit longer. When golden brown, they were deposited on plates held out by hungry folks.
Farther down the line, others were cooking and serving link sausages. Orange juice and coffee rounded out the breakfast fare.
"Yum!" I said to Art as I bit into my first pancake. "These are so good!"
He was too busy eating to reply.
Once we were full, Art left. But since I'm a member, I donned a bright yellow Sertoma apron and began to help. My job the past few years has been to clear tables and make sure guests have plenty of coffee.
I also took photos and chatted with long-time Sertoma members.
John P. Brown, 90, greeted guests and took tickets.
"I remember when we mixed the batter by hand," he said, laughing.
Cecil Eyestone, who has been helping with the pancake feed for about 30 years, also remembers the days of mixing by hand.
"It takes a lot of coordination for this thing to be successful," he said. "We used to use a large spoon to mix the batter, then we got someone's home mixer. The last few years, we've borrowed a large mixer from the American Institute of Baking."
Eyestone said the group depends on other organizations to help as well. The city's Parks and Recreation Department makes the building available. The Senior Citizens Center loans tables and chairs for the event. Area high school students and Kansas State University's Communication Sciences and Disorders students and faculty help make pancakes and serve the food. Local radio station KMAN promotes the event through its "InFocus" talk show.
Eyestone said a big challenge is selling tickets ahead of time, but that's not a problem because several members "really go to town."
Sertoma member Jean Hill remembers when her late father was the top salesman for a number of years. One year, he sold 900 tickets.
"Daddy just really enjoyed the pancake feed so much," she said. "He loved seeing people and selling tickets."
At one time, the pancake feed was a male-only affair. Sertoma didn't have women members until 1991, when Jean was invited to join the club. Before that, women could join LaSertoma.
Jean's mother Virginia Bigbee remembers when members had to lug the large griddles up the steps from the basement of the Community House before the lift was added at the back of the building.
She also remembers when one couple entertained pancake feed guests with their antique player piano, which also had to be carried up the steps.
Ann Smit, a Sertoman since the mid-1990s, said, "I'd have to say that some of the best memories I have are people-watching memories. For example, there are often people who sort of knew each other before who sit down at the same table, and they just talk up a storm over pancakes. There are usually some large family groups. I like the look on young children's faces as they watch the batter-measuring device plop even amounts of batter on the griddle."
As the day wore on, the line grew shorter and shorter until the 50th Ground Hog Day Pancake Feed came to an end. More than seven cases of pancake mix had been used, 1,900 pancakes had been made, an equal number of sausages had been grilled and more than 800 people had been fed.
But there was another end as well. It was the last time the griddles will be brought up from the basement and the tables will be carried up the steps and into the hall. Next year, the Sertoma pancake feed will be held in Pottorf Hall in CiCo Park where everything is conveniently at hand.
And with any luck, it will mark the start of another 50 years of working together, flipping pancakes and catching up with old friends.