St. Paul food booth is a Clayton County Fair tradition

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Parish members of St. Paul's Church, Garnavillo, have been serving up food at the Clayton County Fair since 1954. Volunteers include, from left, Art Scherf, Denise Wilke, Matt Wilke, Myrna Schmelzer, Charlotte Reimer, Kay Ihde, Bob Bente (back), Verdus Reimer (back), Connie Peterson, Vern Clefisch, Helen Borcherding, Nate Meier, and Brenda Meier. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

St. Paul Lutheran Church, located at 104 S. Adams Street, Garnavillo, has been proclaiming the gospel in the small rural community since 1853.

The St. Paul food booth has been a mainstay at the Clayton County Fair in National since 1954. Kay Ihde, a spokeswoman for the group, told The Press, "Originally the food booth was located underneath the amphitheater." Eventually the group of ambitious church members changed the location to its current resting spot next to the midway. 

Ihde explained, "In the early days we brought up all the dishes, cookware, stoves, refrigeration needs and planks that were needed to make the tables and counter tops. I guess we hauled everything in except the kitchen sink. We had to go to Dubuque to get the rental tent."

Harold and Ivanelle Mueller, Ihde's parents, were always involved in the project. Ihde pointed out, "This folder still has my parents' handwriting attached to the front." The well-organized group works together to serve their famous meals. "We have 8-10 volunteers scheduled who help out during the fair in various shifts," she said.

A considerable amount of volunteer work is done ahead of time in preparation for the big event. Ihde commented, "We are famous for our homemade pickles. Each year we make about 30-40 gallons for the fair stand." 

A slice of St. Paul's homemade pie is a special treat during the fair. This year pie bakers made and donated approximately 136 pies. "In addition to the pickles, many parish women make homemade pies from scratch – right down to the rolled out pie crust," she said with pride.  

"Throughout the fair week we serve 700 burgers and 150 barbecue pork sandwiches. We are famous for Millie's hot beef plate, which is sold on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We average about 60 hot beef plates sold per day. Our cold plate is very popular also," she shared. 

Ihde reported, "On average the St. Paul's food booth earns anywhere between $7,000 and $8,000. In the past we made between $10,000 and $12,000." She explained, "The cost of food keeps going up, but we like to keep our prices down because it is a family event. A decline in attendance, entertainment choices and fluctuating weather at the fair has also made our profits go down." 

The dedicated group donates the money raised to a specific building project or for upkeep on the church. Ihde worries, "We volunteers aren't getting any younger. We are looking for the younger members of our congregation to step up and take the reins"

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