Sticking with it Everyone finds their niche at Leopold's annual

Sunday, July 28, 2002

LEOPOLD, Mo. -- Every year since 1954, just out of the Korean War, Stan Thiele has helped fix homemade vanilla ice cream.

Saturday was no different.

Fifty cents for one scoop. A dollar for two.

Nowadays, Thiele and his crew of three or four gray-haired men use the motorized ice cream makers instead of the hand-cranking ones.

"We got smart a few years ago," he said, adding the crew prepared 85 gallons of the vanilla treats for Saturday's picnic.

Thiele's story is like so many others at the Leopold picnic. You find a job and you stick with it.

The same ladies flour the chicken for chicken and dumplings. The same men fry the chicken, the same men boil the potatoes.

Under a huge wooden, shed -- a.k.a. "the kitchen" -- that is a cross between a barn and a park shelter, more ladies fixed the coleslaw and cut vegetables, while numerous ceiling fans gave them a bit of relief from the July heat.

Fixing food for 1,200 people is a lot of work, but the picnic pretty much runs itself, said Betty Beussink, one of the organizers.

The children always start their picnic careers by selling the homemade ice cream. They become eligible for work once they enter the fourth grade, but eventually will graduate to other responsibilities.

"Most of us do the same thing we did last year," Beussink said. "And most of us probably do what our parents did. And they probably did what their parents did."

Planning for the picnic starts weeks in advance with a dumpling-making day on the first Tuesday in July. At 5 a.m. Saturday, the steaming of the dumplings begin. Eventually, 1,200 pounds of chicken and 600 pounds of potatoes would be cooked.

If you can only go to Leopold one day a year, the last Saturday in July is the day, residents say. On this day, more than 1,000 people flock to the tiny Bollinger County town for the fellowship and homemade fixings that were the same Saturday as they were decades ago .

The picnic is an event attended without fail by many, a celebration that could date back 100 years, but nobody seems to know for sure.

The picnic is sponsored by St. John's Parish, but anyone and everyone is invited to attend.

"It's always hot," said Ted Peters. "But everything down there is homemade, even the bread. And you can smell the picnic as soon as you get down here. That's one of the best parts of it."

335-6611, extension 127

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