By Kenneth Weaver
News-Sentinel State Editor
AKRON, Ind. Spring plowing coupled with the fish fries of The Famous Akron Jonah Club, Inc., makes March a busy month for its farmer members. With 18 fries scheduled for the remainder of the season, 12 of them this month, farmers sometimes must interrupt their work in the middle of the afternoon.
For instance, one member recently had to postpone his milking operation until returning from a fish fry. And that could have been as late as midnight. About three-fourths of the 40-odd members of the club are farmers, says Harold Walters, R. R. 1, Akron, president. Half of the membership are women.
When the schedule reaches the point where it interferes too much with farming, members bring the season to a halt. Walter Zimmerman, also of R. R. 1, who as vice-kingfish must organize members for a fish fry, states: "When the farmers can't make it, then the city folk take over." Vocations other than farming are represented. One member is chief of police at Rochester; another is an implement dealer; and still another is a school teacher.
CLUB HELPS STRICKEN GIRL
Members emphasize that the full name of their organization, philanthropic in nature, is The Famous Akron Jonah Club, Inc. As a non-profit group, it charges only for the fish and supplies used but accepts donations with which to support various charitable enterprises.
Actually, full purpose of the club is "to avenge Jonah (who was swallowed by a whale), spread a spirit of co-operation and fellowship and support charity and benevolence." Last year, the club donated $150 to the Akron Community Chest; $300 to the polio fund and $500 worth of blankets to the Rochester hospital.
About a week ago, members voted to give $200 towards the expenses of an Akron girl hospitalized in Michgan with a tumor. Zimmerman says donations at the fish fries vary, running "all the way from nothing and sometimes less than nothing to $150."
For certain groups experiencing financial difficulty, the Jonah Club contributes both the fish and its services. As for booking jobs, Zimmerman says: "We just don't like to start before the last of October, but the last couple of years we have booked fries in September. Usually the season ends in late March or early April but sometimes "runs on into May."
SOME 20-year MEMBERS
Zimmerman relates that "between the fall of 1955 and the spring of 1956 we put on 52 feeds; we used six tons, 400 pounds of fish to feed about 23,000 people." In one year's time, the members used 68 gallons of lemon, 4,400 pounds of lard and 2,100 pounds of cracker meal.
A few of the members have been serving with the club since it was founded more than 20 years ago. Most of their work consists of fish fries in northern Indiana, but Zimmerman says: "We've been from Niles, Mich., to Champaign, Ill." Most of the members representing four different church denominations, reside within a 10-mile radius of Akron.
Members enjoy mixing humor with their work, frequently joking among themselves. For instance, they tell the official Wrinkle Chaser, the person who lays out the split fish to be dipped in flour, batter and crackermeal, that her job requires "very little mental work."
THEY ADOPT TITLES
To inquisitive patrons asking for the club's batter recipe, members reply that it gets its flavor from the "essence of bluegills."
They also adopt various titles, such as Skillet Man, Fog Horn Blower, Anchor Lifter, Bone Picker, Fish Scaler and Bait Digger. Women workers are called Mermaids. Primarily, members prefer to serve blue pike, wall-eyed pike or lake perch. They purchase much of their fish in Fort Wayne.
From 12 to 15 members prepare the fish for an event with an attendance of 500 or more. It takes about an hour to get the giant electric cookers lined up, to put the lard in and to get heated up. The it takes about "three and a half to 4 minutes " to fry a cooker full (five pounds) of fish, Zimmerman explains.
Officers beside Walters and Zimmerman are Harold Crowell, R. R. 2 Macy, vice-president; Gordon Heltzel, Akron, secretary-treasurer, and Abe Caldwell, Akron, asssistant king-fish.
Whereas Walters, Zimmerman and Crowell are farmers, Heltzel is a school teacher and Caldwell is an electrician.
Since the kingfish is sort of an Exalted Being, no member has that title. The vice-kingfish and his assistant are charged with carrying out his work: that of securing supplies and equipment and organizing the fish fry.
Each year, the members sample their own cooking with a family night gathering during the Christmas season, usually changing the menu from fish to oysters. "We've never fallen down on a date yet," the members state, even though threatened by weather more than once.
Fort Wayne News-Sentinel Sat. March 9, 1957 page 30
The following photos come from Fort Wayne News-Sentinel March
20, 1948 RotoGravure Section:
They Fry Fish for Fun
One of the Nation's oddest organizations is the Akron Jonah Club. It was formed over 10 years ago by the farmers, merchants, preachers and professional men and their wives of Akron, Fulton County town of 990 souls. Since then they have put on more fish fries than they can remember. Serving 2,000 eaters at a throw is "nothing". The organization works for cost. Gifts given for their services are passed on to charity. "If we get some money we can't get rid of, we call a meeting and eat up the profits," says Forrest W. Higgins, ViceKingfish. (News-Sentinel photos)
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