By DIANE R. CHODAN
OBSERVER Staff Writer
CASSADAGA - Just as the groundhog emerges from his slumber in early February to greet the rising sun, residents of the Cassadaga community also have an annual tradition held bright and early to help them escape the midwinter doldrums.
Pictured making preparations at the Cassadaga Valley Kiwanis pancake breakfast in 1989 are Dean Courson of Courson Brothers Lumber; Claribel Lewis, wife of Leo Lewis, electrician from Cherry Creek; Bertha Fredrickson, wife of Bill Fredrickson of Fredrickson Builders Supply; and James Odell of Odell Auto.
This year the Cassadaga Valley Kiwanis will be holding its pancake breakfast for the 30th time at the Cassadaga Firehall on Feb. 5 from 8 to 11 a.m. The pancake breakfast, which is held the Sunday closest to Groundhog Day, is more than pancakes. According to Dave Rowley, the current president of the organization, "It's a full breakfast - pancakes, sausages, juice, scrambled eggs." It is also an all-you-can-eat event.
Rowley has been a Kiwanis member since 1985. When he moved to Cassadaga in 1994, he joined the area group, and has enjoyed working on the event. This year there will be about 20 people involved. In addition to Kiwanis members, the Key Club from Cassadaga Valley Central School, a service organization for high school students sponsored by the Kiwanis, will assist.
Dick Johnson, who was called a "mainstay" of the effort in recent times, said that he has worked with the Kiwanis for the last 12-13 years. He will be working on Feb. 5.
"The purpose of this is to do something for the community," he said.
The event is a well-established fundraiser, but it has become more than that.
"This is traditional," Rowley said. "People in the local area look for something to do in the middle of winter. They enjoy getting together even if Cassadaga is snowy."
John Sipos, current historian for the village of Cassadaga, and a charter member of the Cassadaga Valley Kiwanis who remained with the organization for 28 years, noticed something interesting about attendance when he was involved in the event.
He said, " The number of breakfasts served while I was a member in the Cassadaga Valley Kiwanis was always above 300. Since I kept track of the numbers attending each year, I also kept track of the weather conditions. I noticed a trend. When the temperature outside was 0 degrees or lower, the number attending was high. Blizzard conditions also seemed to bring out the breakfast people. Warmer weather had less attending. One year, the weather conditions were so poor, and most of the Chautauqua County roads were closed due to high winds and blizzard conditions, but the Cassadaga Valley Kiwanis had one of the record attendances."
Sipos was also able to give background concerning the formation of the Cassadaga Valley Kiwanis Club and the early days of the pancake breakfast. The group was organized on Nov. 24, 1980 and officially chartered on March 13, 1981. The first president of the group was former Cassadaga Valley Superintendent of Schools, Sam Danton. At the time the club was organized, Kiwanis was a men's organization. (It did not include women until the late 1980s)
According to Sipos, "During the winter of 1982-83, I suggested that we have a breakfast in the middle of winter since people were snowbound in their houses and may want an excuse to do something in the middle of winter. What could be more convenient than Groundhog Day since it was close to the middle of winter?"
Remarking about the early days of the breakfast, he said, "The club was new, had next to nothing to make pancakes, so coffee pots, creamers, sugar bowls, pitchers for the coffee and orange juice, mixing utensils, and grills were borrowed until we raised funds to be able to slowly purchase our own kitchen items. We even had to use my own dish towels, and when funds were available that was one of the first items purchased."
The breakfast increased in popularity. The first year, 1983, the group sold 237 breakfasts. In 1987, the number was 356; in 1988, 414; in and in 1989, 494.
James Odell, another charter member of the group, remembers working on many of the breakfasts. When asked what he did, he said, "I flipped pancakes. Marv Zahm and I did the pancakes."
Actually, he did more than that. A service manager for many years at Weimer Chevrolet Cadillac, he also owned his own business, Odell Auto.
Odell remembers, "John(Sipos) and I would lug all the stuff in my station wagon. He and I did it early in the morning. Then after it was over, we packed it all back."
Odell enjoyed his time in the Kiwanis.
"What I liked best was the camaraderie," he said. "We started something and we built it up to about 50 members. It was like a happy family and we all worked together. ... We were bringing back money to the community and we had fun. We were giving back to the community through scholarships. There were other things we helped out on that people didn't even know."
Johnson pointed out that the Kiwanis has other fundraisers, including a hot dog trailer and a geranium sale. For now though, the organization is focusing on its pancake breakfast. They hope to get a good turn-out this year.
Whether you call it - "cabin fever," "mid-winter blahs," or "house-itis" - this event may prove to be the perfect cure.
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