Dishing up fish: a Lenten tradition
It is no small task getting 120 pounds of catfish cooked up and served for a multitude.
Just ask Bill Plake, one of the chief cooks for the Knights of Columbus fish fry held Friday nights during Lent at Tongan-oxie's Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
The Louis-iana pond-raised catfish are fresh, he said.
"They're killed on Mon-day and shipped on Tuesday," Plake said.
On Thursdays, Plake picks up the fish at Mudjack Fish, Kansas City, Kan., and hauls them to the church kitchen.
Then, it takes some time for Plake and a couple of other volunteers to clean the fish.
"We'll be here four or five hours on Thursday afternoons," he said.
The fish parts, called nuggets, are then breaded and deep-fat fried the next day. And along with the fried fish, the Knights of Columbus also serve baked whiting, vegetables, salads, rolls and desserts.
Plake's wife, Wilma, said the meals are popular.
"Where else can you get a $6 meal and all the food you can eat?" she said.
Thus, this is now a chief fund-raiser for the 5-year-old Knights of Columbus group. And, with six meals to prepare, a good share of the 87 members help out.
Last Friday, as Tony Funk, Tonganoxie, and Vince Pember-ton, Piper, washed dishes, Plake alternated between breading raw fish parts and shaking the hot oil off the crisp brown chunks of fish freshly cooked.
As John Dempsey sold tickets at the door, John Funk, the grand knight, helped keep the warming trays full on the serving tables. Terry Schaplowsky, Russ Kimber-lin, George Lingenfelser, Ronald Zishka and John Pettengill roamed the kitchen and dining area, helping where needed.
Each of the 100-plus seats in the dining hall was filled with diners during the dinner hour.
Attendance at these events has grown in the seven or so years this has been going on, said Wilma Plake.
"Father Ron Cornish started this as a community fellowship with donations to break even during the first two Lents we did this," she said. "It was such a success that the next year we started doing it every Friday. About five years ago when the Knights formed, they took it over and it became a fund-raiser."
Carroll and Darlene Logsdon, Bonner Springs, are annual supporters of the event. They try to make it to Tonganoxie for a couple of the fish fries each year. This time the meal was as good as ever, Carroll Logsdon said.
"This was our second time this Lent," he said. "It was great, it was really good. In fact, we plan to come back again."
The Logsdons were just two of the 125 diners the Knights cooked for last Friday night. This year they've been averaging about 125 diners from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. each Friday.
Meanwhile, for those licking their chops for some fresh fried fish, Bill Plake says three weeks remain, and on the last week, boiled shrimp will be served along with the fried catfish.
Lingenfelser, another of the chief cooks, said it's hard work but he enjoys it.
"I was a cook in the military for seven years," he said. "We get down here and we have a lot of fun it isn't all work."