Feb 5, 2008

Turbotville, PA- February 5, 2008

74th Annual Men's Oyster Dinner (women are welcome)
Zion Lutheran Church
Paradise Street
Turbotville, PA
6:30 PM
Oyster supper 74 and still going strong

By Wayne Laepple
The Daily Item
TURBOTVILLE — Once again, Bill Webb is doing his part to maintain a 74-year tradition at Zion Lutheran Church.

The Milton resident is organizing the 74th annual men's oyster dinner at the Paradise Street church on Tuesday evening.

A Chef Boyardee retiree, born and raised in Turbotville, Mr. Webb has managed the myriad details necessary for a smooth supper for the past 13 years, and he's got it down to a science. In a spiral-bound notebook, he keeps track of everything he needs to know. He's got the recipe for the oyster stew, the list of ingredients required, phone numbers of his helpers and the count of attendees each year.

"I'll be at the church around 2 o'clock on Tuesday afternoon to get started," he said.

On his shopping list are 21 gallons of oysters, 48 pounds of hard oyster crackers, 55 pound of pepper cabbage, 40 gallons of milk, 40 pounds of cheese, and "25 or 30 pies made by the church ladies."

"We always get 21 gallons of oysters, and no matter how many come, that's always enough," he said.

By 4 p.m., the kitchen crew will be in the church kitchen, heating the milk and other ingredients that make the oyster stew. Another crew will be shucking more oyster, placing the slippery bivalves on plates for those who take their oysters raw. Several Boy Scouts help out setting up chairs and tables.

"We have to have everything ready," said Mr. Webb.

He explained that the men's oyster dinner dates to 1934.

"The year before, the Rev. Russell Flowers started a Men's Brotherhood group at the church," he said. "And the next year they started the oyster supper as a men's fellowship event."

The supper has traditionally been a men's event, he said, but a few women do come with their husbands.

The church secretary sends out invitation letters to churches all over the region, Mr. Webb said, and men come from as far away as Selinsgrove, Mifflinburg, Bloomsburg and Williamsport.

Mr. Webb heads up a team of about 20 people who put the supper on, cooking the stew, serving it, along with plates of raw oysters, pepper cabbage, coffee, tea, water and soda and homemade pie for dessert.

"Some of the follows who come bring their own sauce to put on their raw oysters," he said, laughing. "Some sort of secret concoction, I guess."

"We used to have a roll call, just to see where people came from, but it got too lengthy," he said. "Back in the 70s, we would have men from about 50 churches, not just Lutherans, but Methodists, Baptists and others as well. There aren't that many any more."

Nevertheless, attendance at the supper ranges from 150 to over 200, depending on the weather.

"Last year, we only had about 165 because of the weather, but we still got rid of everything," he said.

According to Mr. Webb, some of those who attend ask as they come in the door to buy leftovers.

"One guy will ask for a pint of oysters, another wants a quart, or they want the leftover pepper cabbage or a pie," he said.

The dinner starts at 6:30, and by 7:45, everyone has eaten. A speaker or a short entertainment follows, and by about 8:30, everyone is on their way home, Mr. Webb said.

"We work in the kitchen to clean up as we go, so we're usually out by 9:30 ourselves," he said.

This year's entertainment is Carl and Opal Schleppy of Muncy, who sing and tell jokes, Mr. Webb said. Mr. Schleppy has attended the supper for a number of years. In past years, Mr. Webb has had a state trooper, a game protector and a number of musicians provide the entertainment.

"I've been going to the supper for about 20 years," Mr. Webb said. "There are others who have been coming for longer than that. It's a ritual for some of them."

In past years, admission to the dinner was by donation, but for the past couple of years, the price has been set at $11. Mr. Webb said the price has been increased as necessary from $7 when he first started managing the dinner.

"We don't do it to make money," he said. "I'm glad to break even. I've never gone over my budget, and most years we make a bit. At least we pay for the electric bill."

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