Forever friends & steadfast neighbors savor ties & treats at Bethany Lutheran Church strawberry fest

Decades melt away faster than whipped cream on strawberries when friends and family gather to celebrate a tradition that has defined a society for more number of years than memory can serve. Even as members of the Bethany Lutheran Church congregation served up delicious, wholesome home-cooked fare at the annual strawberry festival, the talk centered around enduring friendships and steadfast relationships that have survived the vagaries of nearly half-a-century.

To hear Bonnie Fetterolf speak one would think it was only yesterday that she married Paul, her husband of 46 years, so clear is her recollection of that day and so delightful her narration of it.

“Paul and I were married on April 20, 1968 at this very church by Pastor Dieter,” she muses, with Paul looking on with a twinkle in his eye. “And we have been coming to this strawberry festival ever since it was launched 30 years ago.”

“I don’t know how it got started,” is Fellowship Chairman Kathie Holm’s candid confession, “but the community expects it, and they know that every June we have our strawberry festival.” And it is not just the strawberry festival, the church also holds a pork-sauerkraut dinner in February and a ham dinner in October. “It is interesting because not only do we draw the church’s congregation of around 50 active members to these events, we welcome even those who do not attend church with us.”

Church minister Pastor Cathy Fiel is impressed. Nine months into her new appointment, having moved from Washington D.C., the Pastor does appear somewhat pleasantly surprised by the “very good” number of attendees and soaring spirits as voices rise in chatter and cheerful camaraderie.

Sharing her journey so far, Pastor Fiel says: “I am a missionary kid and I grew up in Japan. My great aunt was missionary of the Lutheran faith for 40 years in India. Another of my relatives was a bishop in India for close to 30 years. I grew up interested in different peoples and cultures. When we came back to the US, I was 13, but the experiences and inspirations of my early childhood remained and further strengthened my convictions.”

For the numbers and other practical details, the minister turns to Kathie who gets straight to the point: “We are expecting to make around $1500 from tonight’s event. Part of it will be allocated as outreach to the community and the rest will go towards construction of church building.”

Inside the kitchen is Eric Holm, Kathie’s husband and a retired surgeon, scoring pans and enquiring after dirty trays. Eric likes to keep it simple, wishing in a rather self-effacing way to “stay anonymous,” so much so that he pulls a prank and introduces himself under the pseudonym “Fred Smith.” “Why am I washing dishes? To make them clean. I am washing dishes because it is a job that has to be done and I do it very well,” he quips. Working alongside him are Patricia Kirn, Sondra Renshaw and Michaela Gleba, to name a few, all under the “able stewardship of Kathie.”

On offer is a veritable feast, including two different kinds of German potato salad (with the distinct dressings unique to the church kitchen), coleslaw, baked beans, turkey and beef barbecue, chicken Corletto Soup and Italian Wedding Soup. “The soups are usually the top sellouts,” reveals Co-Chairman Miriam Hahn, handing out the salads. “Over the years, some items were taken off the menu because they weren’t going so well and had a lot left over.”

Not that leftovers need worry Em and Dave Culp working frantically at the strawberry-and-cream counter. Looking around appreciatively, Em makes no attempt to hide her delight at the crowd: “This event is a tradition in this neighborhood. People without fail come every year to socialize and eat. The food is donated by the members of our congregation, and neighbors meet neighbors and they all sit and talk and talk.”

Sisters Linda Abelein and Becky Mack could not have agreed more. Growing up in Stony Creek, the siblings attended the church with their mother as little children. “I worked with this gentleman (pointing to Paul Fetterolf) over two decades ago, and we see each other every year at this event and do some catching up. So this is one opportunity for all of us to get to see each other,” says Linda, to which Becky quips: “I come for the baskets (pointing to the raffle kitties waiting to be given away to the lucky winners).”

“The food is good and the company is great, but I come here hoping to win one of the baskets,” says Becky, and Linda counters: “She has won numerous times in the past.”

As first-timers to the event, Jaela Mulholland and her grandmother Karen Mulholland can keep their fingers crossed. The eight-year-old is allergic to strawberries, but she is relishing the pies on offer. “I am loving the cookies,” she declares, munching on a chocolate chip treat, oblivious to the swirling, overlapping chatter of marriages, mayhems, first dates, disasters, new beginnings and other sundry recollections of dare and dash.