By Jackie Nelson
HESSTON – After a yearlong hiatus due to COVID-19, the Hesston Area Senior Center (HAS) is bringing back the traditional Fish Fry, July 30 from 5-7 p.m. at HAS. The price for a meal is a freewill donation to the Senior Center.
Director Yawna Smith said she is hoping for about 500 attendees. She noted there would once again be take-out containers available. She said take-out meals have been very popular for the congregant meals program and she plans to provide the same opportunity again at the Fish Fry.
Smith said in bringing the Fish Fry back, it would harken back to the original 1997 Fish Fry, in honor of the event’s founders and first committee – Joe Hershberger and Ray Peirce and committee members Russ Nebergall, Ray Hackenberg, Cecil Banning, Carl Boyer, Don Brubacher, Richard Knott and Armin Samuelson.
“We had a hard reset after COVID and we want to bring back the original fish fry and give recognition to the original guys who started it, Aug. 1, 1997,” said Smith.
In a throwback to the original menu, this year HAS will serve fried fish, fried potatoes, coleslaw, baked beans, bread and drinks.
While the Fish Fry has been an ongoing tradition, this year, Smith said, there are many new faces volunteering at HAS for the fry. This year, Gary Vogt is heading the Fish Fry committee.
“Michelle Pfautz and her husband have done all of the fishing and cleaning this year. They have done a ton of work,” said Smith.
Michelle Pfautz said the old-time fishermen, including Joe Hershberger, have stepped back from the arduous task of catching and cleaning hundreds of fish for the fry.
Pfautz and her husband started fishing in March of this year, spending every free weekend and day with a rod in hand to provide enough fish for the event.
“I want people in this town to be happy. I know they look forward to the Fish Fry and I care about the people,” she said.
Pfautz added her admiration for Joe Hershberger, one of the original founders of the event and one of the most dedicated fishermen, motivated her to take over fishing duties for this year’s fry.
“I wanted to keep his history going. He’s done a lot for this community,” she said.
The Pfautzs have been reeling in channel cat, flatheads, wipers and the stray bass or two for the last several months and cleaning the fillets to pack 68 cartons of fish to be used next Saturday.
Smith and Pfautz noted a major challenge continues to be rising costs – from gas to groceries – in putting on the Fish Fry and donations to HAS help defray the costs. The Fish Fry is also one of the largest fundraisers of the year for HAS.
“I want to get a lot of new things going. I’d like to get support groups going. I want to do lots of activities, bring in speakers, things like that as time goes on,” said Smith.
Funds raised by the Fish Fry will go to the HAS general fund and help finance all of the activities, as well as capital needs of the center.
Smith said after missing a year, it is important to bring back traditions and honor past community leaders.
“We’re wanting to do justice to these gentlemen who can’t do it anymore, to keep it alive and do them proud,” she said.