by Adam Gruenewald
What started as a Parent Teacher League (PTL) idea to raise funds for a playground has continued to be a standout winter tradition for the St. John’s School community.
The 15th annual chili feed and live and silent auctions, set for Jan. 29 this year, has maintained a fundraising tradition based on full community effort since its inception.
Among the original founders who helped jumpstart the fundraiser are Kerri Forner and Joy Cook.
Forner said she jumped at the idea of the chili feed fundraiser, and quickly sought the advice of her mom Bev Swanson, a former caterer who was more than willing to help in the serving of 425 people the first year.
“I just thought we’re going to do this,” said Forner.
Her mom passed away a year later, but Forner said she continued to carry on her mom’s giving spirit.
“We just kept doing because that’s something she had taught me as a child, you always give back to everybody,” said Forner. “She loved the kids just as much as everybody else.”
With her mom as the driving factor and ongoing support from family, community and businesses in terms of donations and time, Forner kept up her role as co-chair in the fundraiser. Beginning on Saturday morning, Forner and others would start by preparing 150 gallons of chili at the school for an estimated 600 people which involved a extensive process, then entirely based on taste, of frying the hamburger, cutting the green peppers, onions, celery and adding spices.
“It’s a lot of work,” said Forner. “It’s a blessing. I have met so many wonderful people and I just believe it was God’s calling to put us all together to do this for our school.”
Forner said she was more than willing to stay involved in the fundraiser over the years.
“It’s always for the kids,” she said. “The most important thing is it’s for the kids to better their experience at the school. We’re a small school and anything us parents can do… that’s what you do. You work together, get a job done and better our community and our school.”
Forner, whose kids Nick and Abby have since moved on from St. John’s, stepped aside as one of the organizers four years ago and has since detailed and measured the recipe for current chili organizers Nate and Mandy Parpart.
Fellow original co-chair Joy Cook, who is a lifelong St. John’s member and whose kids Ellen and Aaron also attended St. John’s, said that the primary goal of the fundraiser at the beginning was to support the two different phases of the playground for the school, as the chili feed and silent auction collected $50,000 for the first phase.
While different fundraisers had taken place prior for the playground, Cook and others came up with the idea of the chili feed and silent and live auction to complete the project fundraising.
In addition to the chili, the event has raised funds through a large amount of items donated for the auctions over the years, according to Cook. While she didn’t remember specific larger items, Cook did highlight the overall community support over the years.
“I guess what I remember most is people coming together around a common goal,” said Cook. “It was only by the grace of God that this project was started and completed, because I knew nothing of fundraising or playground equipment. It was the Lord who put the right people in the right place at the right time and thankfully those people answered His call.”
Current co-chair Lori Trocke, a parent in her seventh year involved with the chili feed, is heading up the silent and live auction side while chili organizers are Nate and Mandy Parpart, is looking forward to this year’s event.
Trocke said the fundraiser continues to remain a key part of support for St. John’s School that started with the playground but has since supported a wide range of features at the school including lockers, gym renovations, painting of restroom, technology purchases, library selection, field trip support and others.
“It’s our largest fundraiser to cover those extra things that aren’t covered in the annual budget to run the school,” said Trocke.
In terms of this year’s fundraiser, Trocke said this year’s goal is to raise the typical $15,000 and serve about 500 people and that Mayer Lutheran Executive Director Joel Landskroener will be back as live auctioneer this year. In addition to gift baskets created by each classroom at St. John’s, this year’s auctions will feature Wild tickets, a large screen television, a hoverboard, front row tickets to the Christmas program and a sizable gift cards bag.
St. John’s School in NYA will host the 15th annual all-you-can-eat chili feed from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 29. There will be a silent auction from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. with a live auction at 1 p.m. Tickets are available at the door or in advance from any St. John’s student.
Follow Adam Gruenewald on Twitter @adamgruenewald.