Pilgrims keep Pilsen altar society cooking
Growing numbers of tour groups are finding their way to the rural Marion County town of Pilsen and are finding food for the soul as they learn more about chaplain Emil Kapaun, who gave his life serving others in a North Korean prisoner-of-war camp and is a candidate for the sainthood.
When they finish touring the Father Emil Kapaun Museum and adjacent St. John Nepomucene Church, they are hungry.
Women of St. Anne’s Altar Society are there to satisfy the physical need, working behind the scenes to provide lunch for large groups who request it.
Terry Klenda, altar society president, coordinates the efforts of a dozen volunteers who have developed meal preparation and service into a science.
“We used to fly by the seat of our pants until it became routine,” Klenda said. “Now, we can serve 100 people in 20 minutes.”
Meals are provided upon request to groups of 10 or more on any day of the week except Sunday.
The number of women who work on any given day depends on the size of the visiting group. On days when a group is coming, Klenda and her assistants arrive at the church by 9 a.m. to start the meal. The same menu is served each time. It consists of sliced ham, scalloped potatoes, green beans, a vegetable salad, a fruit salad, homemade rohlicky (crescent rolls), cake, and brownies.
At first, the women brought salads from home, but they discovered, with so many choices, it took a lot longer for everyone to get through the serving line. Now, just a few large salads are offered.
Sometimes, husbands pitch in and help serve.
On special occasions such as Father Kapaun Day or Veterans Day, the menu may be varied to include pulled pork and coleslaw. Kolaches (a sweet bun with fruit in the center) are included in the meal for an extra charge.
Every so often, the ladies get together for a baking session. Using a convection oven in the large basement kitchen, they bake rolaches, kolaches, and cakes, freezing them for future use.
“Father Kapaun’s mother made rohlicky and kolaches,” Klenda said. “We are keeping that tradition alive. The kolaches were so popular that we had to start charging for them.”
The meals are provided for a suggested donation, which raises enough money to cover food and supplies and leave a little extra for maintenance.
The altar society buys most of its food at Carlsons’ Grocery in Marion.
“They’ve been super to work with,” Klenda said. “They give us good deals.”
She said most of the many students who come to Pilsen are appreciative of the food.
“They’re good eaters,” she said.
In addition to cooking for tour groups and special events, the altar society continues to serve for funerals. Sharon Bina estimated the group serves more than 1,000 meals annually.
Some weeks are busier than others. For example, the week before the Veterans Day service, the women served tour groups on Tuesday and Thursday. They served for a funeral on Saturday and began food preparation for Veterans Day. Preparations continued on Monday. They served on Veterans Day that Tuesday and entertained another tour group on Thursday.
The women who assist Klenda on a regular basis include Kathy Svitak, Sharon Bina, Melissa Vinduska Stuchlik, LaVada Holub, Delores Svoboda, Carol Makovec, Andrea Klenda, Kathy Silhan, Rosalie Rudolph, Karen Konarik, Rosemary Neuwirth, Harriet Bina, Melissa Stuchlik, and Carol Sklenar.
“I work with a great bunch of ladies,” Klenda said. “We enjoy what we do and have a lot of fun doing it.”