There is a story behind every volunteer who helps at the annual Iola Winter Carnival, set for Feb. 7-8.
Among these volunteers is Jim Neidert, who has chaired the Norwegian Lutefisk Supper for the past 24 years.
An Iola native, Neidert at first co-chaired the IWC Lutefisk Supper for one year and since then has chaired the event. This year, he will work with a co-chair.
“There was so much to do and handle that I felt that a person just couldn’t learn it all or do a decent job in one term,” he said. “So I kept the position year-after-year, trying to constantly improve the supper.”
“He likes doing it every year,” said fellow volunteer Leonard Haroldson. “Jim knows what equipment is best for cooking certain foods. He does his research and knows the quality of food. He should be in the restaurant business.”
Under Neidert, the supper went from boiled potatoes to mashed, from canned corn to frozen, from deli coleslaw to making it from scratch, always trying to make things better.
The hardest part for Neidert was coming up with decent meatball gravy.
“Making 30 gallons of gravy for the 300 pounds of meatballs isn’t the easiest job in the world,” he said. “It’s not quite like making a home cooked dinner for six.”
As chair, Neidert’s duties included ordering all the food supplies and calling the workers to doubly make sure they would be able to help out each time. Each year, the work started with calling the meatball rollers and signing the school contract.
With the meatball mix made up, the crew begins prep work on the Friday afternoon before the supper.
“It takes about 20 faithful ladies willing to roll each year, plus several men in the kitchen to brown out the 300 pounds of meatballs,” he said. “I simply line up and supervise the prep work on Friday, then take good care of the volunteers by making sure they have cookies and coffee (a Norwegian heritage).”
Once the meatballs are finished, Neidert and his wife Sherry, along with four or five others, begin to prepare the coleslaw. This process can take as long at least two hours.
“Jim makes his own dressing for the coleslaw,” Haroldson said. “He won’t give up his secret recipe.”
On Saturday, the day starts at 7:30 a.m. and hopefully ends at 7:30 p.m.
First, Neidert heats up meatballs, makes the 30 gallons of gravy, fills the steam tables and sets butter out on the tables to warm up.
“All this is to make sure everything is ready to go by 1 p.m.,” he said. “After 1 p.m. I become the ‘Hey, Jim’ guy.”
“He comes in early to make the meatballs in my lutefisk cooker,” Haroldson said. “I always need my lutefisk cooker back by 1 p.m. – clean.”
Neidert enjoys cooking, and even though he doesn’t belong to any of the clubs connected with the event, he has enjoyed being involved with the supper all these years.
The Norwegian Lutefisk Supper is served family-style from 1-6:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 7, at the Iola-Scandinavia High School.
The cost is $14 for adults, $5 for children under 10, and $7 for volunteers who help at the event.