OTTAWA — Ed Alt has a preference for round numbers. For the past 59 years, he’s been helping prepare chicken dinners served during the SS. Peter & Paul Catholic Church Fall Festival, held annually on the first Sunday of November.
Now 89 years of age and a new resident at The Meadows of Ottawa assisted living facility, Alt plans on being present at the Knights of Columbus hall in Ottawa in the early morning hours of Nov. 4 to log his 60th consecutive year of helping congregation members stage one of the church’s largest and most popular annual events.
“They called me the other day and said, ‘Are ya coming out this year?’” Alt said during a recent interview.
He wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Like he has for the each of the last 59 years, Alt will report for duty at the K of C hall sometime on the day the chicken dinners are prepared. This time around, he may not arrive at 6 a.m. as he has in the past. He wants to log his 60th year of helping his congregation … but within reason.
“This year if I do one pan full of chicken it will make 60 years, then I will pass it on to the young bucks,” Alt said.
The annual chicken dinner served during the fall festival has grown substantially over the years. Alt recalled that in the dinner’s infancy, chickens were prepared in the American Legion hall in Ottawa.
“We only had one cooker, and it took a long time,” he said.
Alt’s wife Leona, who passed away some five years ago, prepared the seasoning for the chicken “and I did the flouring,” he said. The process consisted of rolling each piece of chicken around in the seasoned flour mix and letting it set for a bit before it was placed into a deep fryer.
In later years, the assembly line was moved to the K of C hall, where two fryers were available.
“We could really make time then,” Alt said. But when a third deep fryer was added at the hall, things got a little more hectic. “I couldn’t keep up,” he said with a laugh.
But the chicken was churned out in greater and greater numbers with each passing year. “The last time I worked all day, I was 29 pounds shy of going through a ton of chicken,” Alt recalled.
Jan Karhoff, who, along with Pat Maag, serves as co-chairperson of this year’s fall festival, said 525 chickens — each 3 1/2 pounds in weight — were purchased for this year’s dinner. Each chicken will be cut into nine pieces and delivered for preparation by Alt and his fellow congregation members. The meal has grown in popularity throughout the region.
We average about 2,500 dinners served these days,” said Karhoff.
“We must be doing something right,” Alt laughed.
The all-you-can-eat dinners to be served Nov. 4, which also include a helping of beef, are available for eat-in or take-out.
Alt’s contribution to the congregation at SS. Peter and Paul is not limited to the fall festival chicken fry. He also donates the meat and helps fry the sausage for the church’s annual Palm Sunday breakfast.
Asked why he continues to serve his parish, the answer came quickly and easily to Alt.
“I’ve just always enjoyed helping somebody out,” he said.
Reach J Swygart at 567-242-0464.