from the Lake Villa - Lindenhurst Review24 October 1996
Area church readies 97th chicken dinner
BY LESLIE ATOR
Lois Doolittle, a lifelong member of the Millburn
Congregational Church, remembers, "My mother would have two
or three chickens for part of her donation — and dressing
with them" for the church's annual chicken dinner.
"In those days, the dinners were so different — like
harvest dinners," Doolittle added. "Everyone was a farmer
in those days" — the days before Lake County farmland
became fair game for developers.
The church's traditional chicken dinner — which dates
beyond the 97 years appended to this year's feast — will be
repeated Nov. 1. The dinner is served family-style. "The
table is too full," said Doolittle. "It's a bargain," the
Rev. Paul R. Meltzer, church pastor, said.
Reservations for four seatings, at 4:30, 5:30, 6:30 and
7:30 p.m., must be made with the church office, at 356-
5237, between 9 a.m. and noon Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays
or Fridays; or by calling Ruth, at 662-3901, or Vera, at
395-7013. Donations of $7.50 for adults and $3.75 for
youngsters through high school age are requested.
The church's traditional bazaar — which features items like
fancy work, homemade candy, baked goods and home-grown
produce — begins at 2 p.m. The church is at 19073 W. Grass
Lake Road, at the intersection of Grass Lake Road and U.S.
Route 45. The church actually is in Old Mill Creek, but
it's mailing address is Lake Villa, Meltzer explained.
Doolittle, an Antioch resident, recalled her mother "would
make a bowl of Apple Salad and bowl of pureed squash, and
she pretty near had a whole meal. She made fudge and
divinity, heavenly hash for the candy booth and brown
breads and nut breads for the bakery booth. We always had
the bazaar with the chicken dinner."
The dinner — held the first Friday of the last 96 Novembers
— began as a small event, Doolittle remembered. But "When I
was in high school, it got bigger, and we were serving 500.
I thought that was a big, big thing and a lot of work. And
now we have 650 to 700 people." This year, Doolittle,
dinner chairwoman, and her committees members will handle
about 685 pounds of roast chicken, she said Monday.
In the old days, the church women prepared everything from
scratch, Doolittle said. But attendance nowadays dictates
that a caterer roast the chickens and make the dressing,
Meltzer said. Then, "We bring the chickens to church, bone
them and put them all in the roasters, where we keep them
hot," Doolittle explained. "We use the church china.
Dinners served on plastic, which then are dumped into a
barrel, are very unimpressive.
"When I was young, we used to serve quite a few of the
chicken dinners in the loft above the church and in the
Sunday School Room," Doolittle continued. But in 1935, when
Doolittle was an eighth-grader, a church janitor fired up a
coal stove before a dinner planned at the church by a local
insurance company, and fire that smoldered in the walls
burned the wooden building to the ground, she remembered.
The chicken dinners were served in the Masonic temple, next
door to the church, until a new church was built. At that
point, the dinners were served in the church basement.
"People had to come and take a number and wait until a
table was ready for them," Doolittle said. "When I was in
high school, that was a big thing — to wait tables. Then, I
had four children and started cooking for the dinner."
The women make the gravy to pour over the chicken and
dressing, the Apple Salad, which includes pineapple and
marshmallows, with an original dressing, whole cranberry
sauce, pureed squash, green beans, rolls, and pies — berry,
apple, lemon meringue, pumpkin, pecan and more, Doolittle
said. The brown breads of 50 years ago have been replaced
by quick breads.
"The thing that amazes me is that over the years, this has
happened just like clockwork, because it is so well-coordinated,
and people know just what they're doing,"
Pastor Meltzer said.
Church records dating back to after the Civil War show "all
kinds of suppers and bazaars," Meltzer said. "In the very
early days of the (156-year-old) church, nobody had any
money. This was a rural area. The money was all tied up in
people's purchase of land and getting themselves started.
In the post-Civil War Period, people were more settled, and
cash was a little more available."
The church women took advantage of the extra loose change
and served suppers, as well as the annual chicken dinner,
Meltzer said. They also invited the public to dinners held
in conjunction with the women's business meetings, Meltzer
said. The women's organization is 151 years old, he said.
By 1917, "The price of the meal had gone up from 35 to 50
cents," the pastor said. "That was probably quite a bit of
money in those days. The menu for that 1917 dinner was
roast chicken with dressing, mashed potatoes, cabbage slaw,
pickles, cookies and pie."
Doolittle comes from a Millburn farming family dating to
about 1850, roughly 10 years after the church was founded.
"My original home farm was just made into a subdivision
this year," she said. She works with her husband and two
sons on the family's 46-year-old dairy and cash crop farm,
Glenraven, in Antioch.
"It was more like a social gathering of a community,"
Doolittle recalled of the chicken dinner of the past. "Now,
although we open the dinners to the public, we know a lot
of the diners. They come every year."
Workers also are plentiful, even though wives and husbands
work outside the home these days and don't have help with
their children, Doolittle acknowledged. "They all seem to
cooperate and come out for this dinner. It's always a
success. We need lots of young people to wait on tables. We
serve 150 at one time." Doolittle said the $3.75 price for
youngsters through high school age is designed to tempt
them to attend and help. "We figure we have to treat them
right." The women ask other church members to donate either
food or money for the dinner, she added.
Proceeds from the dinner and the bazaar go to the church's
general operating fund "to keep our church in the black. It
takes a lot of money to keep our church going," Doolittle
said. "We hope to make $5,000," the equivalent of what the
church made last year, she said.