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FIRE COMPANY'S HUGE BRUNCHES BUY MODERN GEAR

The men and women of the South Wilson Volunteer Fire Company are working overtime during these last pre-Easter weeks.

They work not for money, not for glory, but for firefighting equipment.

"On each of the six Sundays before Easter, the fire company puts on a brunch at our Chestnut Road Recreation Hall," said farmer Jim Schotz, until recently its long-time assistant fire chief. "Mostly, we feed 800 to 850 people, but last week we served 1,005 meals."

That's a big order for the 30 active firefighters, their spouses and families. But in a rural community where working together is the way to get things done, they pull it off week after week.

"From 9 to 1 p.m., we serve juices, fruits, ham, bacon, sausage, chicken a la king, eggs, fried potatoes, rolls, muffins, coffee and milk -- all goodies for a Sunday brunch," Schotz said.

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, the mid-March menu included cabbage rolls, he said.

"We charge $6 for adults and $4.50 for children. People come from everywhere -- Niagara Falls, Buffalo, Tonawanda, Kenmore, even from as far away as Fairport in Monroe County."

How do the firefighters promote the event to draw such a crowd?

"We don't," he replied. "It's all word-of-mouth. This is our 12th year."

Brunch preparations begin on Wednesdays when Arleen Karsten, president of the South Wilson Fire Company Auxiliary, orders the food. On Thursday mornings from 8 to noon, the group peels and pre-cooks the potatoes. On Friday evenings from 6 to 9 p.m., they bake all the muffins.

On Saturday mornings from 5:30 until noon, they bake the biscuits that will be in the chicken a la king and prepare the ham and egg and chicken casseroles.

On Sundays, the volunteers start at 5 a.m. getting ready to start serving at 8:45.

Schotz said that preparing meals for the hundreds of diners has been much easier these last two years, since "the company just installed a modern kitchen with the best equipment."

Besides the Lenten Sunday brunches, South Wilson volunteers run a bingo game every Saturday night. The volunteers have divided themselves into four teams and each takes a bingo turn every four weeks.

The kitchen barely has time to cool off from the Saturday night bingo foods prepared for the players when the volunteers arrive at 5 a.m. to prepare for the Sunday brunch.

What has all this volunteering achieved?

"Four fire trucks and an equipment van," Schotz said. "We bought fire trucks in 1964, 1968 and 1984. And last year we bought an Emergency One tanker-pumper, the Cadillac of fire trucks. It cost $304,000. We put it in service Feb. 9 after every active member learned to drive it and operate its pumps and other power equipment. Two days later, it was used to put out a fire in a trailer court."

The success of their fund-raising events is a group effort, but when the South Wilson volunteers find strong leaders, they stick with them. Merritt H. Thilk, an electrician, has been the South Wilson fire chief since the company was organized 46 years ago.

Schotz had been assistant chief for 45 years until he retired last year when he reached 65. "Merritt's son has been a captain and my son a lieutenant," Schotz laughed. "They used to call it the Thilk-Schotz Fire Company."