By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
PELLA — Wearing a black apron and face mask to match his clerics, Father Troy Richmond rolled up his sleeves and got to work serving Dutch ribbon potatoes to guests at the annual Tulip Time festival.
“It’s probably a good thing I didn’t know ahead of time I was going to be working the fryers, otherwise I would have been tempted to wear shorts and a T-shirt,” quipped Father Richmond, nicknamed the “Faithful Fryer” by parishioners of St. Mary Parish in Pella. “However, being in my blacks and being easily identified as a Catholic priest led to some good conversations and interactions with festival attendees I would not have otherwise.”
It was the Faithful Fryer’s first time working St. Mary’s Tulip Time food cart since becoming pastor of St. Mary parishes in Pella and Oskaloosa last summer. For the Pella parish, it’s a tradition more than 30 years in the making.
Each spring, Pella residents honor the town’s Dutch heritage with Tulip Time, a three-day festival filled with flowers, food vendors and other festivities. Since the early 1990s, Pella parishioners have been serving bologna-based Dutch tacos, Dutch ribbon potatoes and other goodies to festival attendees. “It’s one of our top fundraisers of the year,” said Tara Menke, a member of the parish’s Tulip Time committee.
Parishioners volunteer with tasks such as cutting potatoes, filling pop coolers, tracking sales, assembling food orders, and shift coordination. “We have all ages, from 9- and 10-year-olds to 80-year-olds in the booth.”
The COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of last year’s event, and organizers weren’t sure what to expect this year when many events took place with precautions, but without the parade. For St. Mary’s, business was booming. “I was shocked at how busy we were throughout the afternoon,” Father Richmond said. “We would have a moment when the line was gone, and then within a few minutes we would have a long line again. … From what I was told, our food stand has been one of the more popular ones over the years at Tulip Time.”
Menke said the parish’s Dutch ribbons are the talk of the town. Parishioners served about 2,700 of them this year. The Dutch Tacos with “secret sauce” are exclusive to St. Mary’s. The parish also makes Dutch cheeseburgers using Dutch bologna and Gouda cheese.
The food stand generated a little more than $30,000 this year, about equal to 2019 earnings. “It was one of our top five years,” Menke said. Ten percent of the food stand proceeds go to the Pella Historical Society, and the remainder goes to the parish. Proceeds have supported parish endeavors such as construction of a new church, construction of a new shed and, as is the case this year, support for youths to attend the National Catholic Youth Conference.
The success of the food stand isn’t measured solely by the amount of food and beverages sold. Menke said the fundraiser succeeds in bringing parishioners together in fellowship and service, a benefit that means even more after a year of social distancing and cancelled events. “It was really awesome to be able to work with and talk with parishioners we maybe haven’t seen in a year. That was probably the best part of the whole thing. It was almost a sense of normalcy.”
Father Richmond believes the parish’s involvement in Tulip Time “sends the message to the greater Pella community that we want to make a difference and be involved in a community where Catholics are less than 10% of the population.”
“We’re known as the Catholics with the great Dutch ribbons,” said Menke. “The individuals who come up to you may be from out of town, or part of Pella their whole life, and it’s just great to talk with them.”
Menke credits the success of the food cart to the guidance of parishioner Leo Laughlin, who designed it and led volunteer efforts for many years. The cart “was his baby,” Menke said. “He was savvy from a mechanical and technological standpoint,” designing features such as a soda cooler that uses water instead of ice.
Laughlin stepped down from his position this year; parishioners formed an event committee to continue the tradition. “It’s nice to be able to carry that on and help take it to the next level,” Menke said. “Without him taking on this effort, the amount of money raised for the church would have never happened.”