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A ton of fish, a ton of fun

Legion Friday night fish fries return Feb. 28 Raffle proceeds to help bring traveling Vietnam memorial
Solon American Legion member Denny Hansen with the fryers the Legion will use to cook about a ton of fish over the next seven Fridays.

SOLON– This year, there will be plenty of fish.
In 2019, the Solon American Legion attracted the biggest crowds ever for its traditional Friday night fish fries.
Typically, over the course of seven Fridays heading into Easter, the Legion would draw an average of 230 people each evening.
“And last year we averaged over 350 per night,” explained Legion member Denny Hansen.
Last year, organizers decided to offer shrimp each week and moved the serving line out of the kitchen, he noted, and it made a big difference.
But they encountered an immediate problem– they hadn’t ordered enough food.
The first night is always a big one, Hansen said, and the Legion ordered 280 pounds of fish.
“And we were out by 6:30 p.m.,” he said. “Ran out still with an hour to go.”
The Legion kept increasing the amount of fish, and kept running out, so this year, Hansen placed an order for 320 pounds of Pollock for the Friday, Feb. 28, debut.
“This year, we want people to know we won’t run out,” he said.
The Lenten fish fries have long been a staple of the Legion’s fundraising efforts, but 35-year member Hansen hadn’t been deeply involved until last year when he volunteered to help longtime coordinator Curt Phillips.
Hansen recruited Steve Knight and Wayne Anderson to brainstorm improvements.
Moving the service line from kitchen to the main hall turned out to be a good idea.
“It frees up a lot of space in the kitchen for the workers. It makes it so much nicer now,” Hansen explained. “We can actually prepare the food and cook the food faster than years past.”
The Legion previously offered shrimp with only the first, middle and last of the Lenten dinners. The decision was made to offer it every week, causing a slight increase in the price.
The bump in cost didn’t have a negative impact.
There will be 20-25 early birds in line, ready for the first fish to hit the fryer.
“The same ones are always here at 4:30 p.m., sitting and waiting for us to open up,” Hansen said.
It only takes five minutes to get the initial customers through, but by that time there are another 20 in line, he added. The line starts to thin down around 6 p.m., so if you want to avoid a long wait, that’s the best time to come.
Preparing for Friday night starts Wednesday with ordering the food, he said.
Deliveries start showing up Thursday morning and that afternoon a team of six to eight people comes in to make the tartar sauce, mix up the potatoes and prep the cole slaw.
As soon as breakfast is over on Friday morning, more volunteers start moving tables and set up the serving line. The lemonade is iced and the coffee is made ready for brewing. By late Friday afternoon, the potatoes are baking, the fish is prepared and the kitchen is set up for cooking.
About 20 people are needed to serve the meals, not including the Scouts who bus tables, Hansen said.
After the crowd has gone, everything is cleaned up and on Saturday morning, the oil is dumped out of the fryers, the fryers are cleaned and new oil loaded.
“Wednesday to Saturday is what it takes,” he explained.
The fish fries are the Legion’s largest fundraiser of the year and finance a lot of projects, he noted.
Last year, the Legion completed major renovations to its building, including the installation of a tankless water heater, the purchase of a new ice machine, replacement of water and sewer lines, new toilets and some electrical work.
Much of the work was completed by volunteers Lynn Worrell, Dennis Kingery, Bill Meyer and Tim Moore with financial support from the Beef Days Committee, the Sons of the American Legion and the Legion Riders.
In 2020, the Legion will place a special emphasis on raising money to bring “The Moving Wall,” a traveling version of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to Solon in August.
The proceeds from the 50/50 raffles at this year’s fish fries will be used to help underwrite the cost of the Moving Wall, Hansen said.
Many past winners have allowed the Legion keep all of the raffle money, and he’s hoping people will do the same this year. If they do, their names will be placed on the donation banner at the Legion.
A visit by the traveling wall is costly and requires a lot of volunteers, he noted. The Legion formed a committee to coordinate the event, and anyone interested in helping should plan to attend a meeting March 21 at 6 p.m., Hansen said.
The Legion could also use help with the fish fries.
It’s multiple people doing multiple jobs, but often it’s the same people coming back.
You don’t have to be Legion member to help, he said. One couple from Iowa City ate at the fish fry and liked it so much they decided to come back and volunteer.
The Legion keeps a sign-up book behind the bar.
“If you want to learn how to cook fish or shrimp, we’ll teach you how to do it,” Hansen promised. And if you don’t want to spend Friday night frying, there are plenty of other jobs.
“We’ll put you to work,” he said.
The homemade menu includes Pollock and shrimp, cheesy potatoes (made from a recipe inherited from the Legion Auxiliary), cole slaw, in-house rye bread from Sam’s Main Street Market, dessert and drink. For adults, the meal costs $12; $6 for kids 12 and under and preschool age eat free.
The Legion Auxiliary’s desserts are one big reason customers keep coming back to the Solon fish fry, Hansen said.
“It wouldn’t be possible without the Auxiliary and all of the ladies in the community who donate desserts,” he added.
One of those, he continued, is Jean Stinocher, a staple of the fish fries.
“She’s here every Thursday helping, she’s here every Friday helping and she comes back on Saturday morning,” he said. “She’s always here. She brings in at least six pies every Friday night.”
Knight, Anderson and Worrell are the main cooks.
“Three guys that volunteer a lot of time here,” Hansen observed. “We have a core, but like most groups we need more than that core.”
With a lot of people, the work goes quickly. Set up on Friday afternoon can be finished within an hour with the right number of people, he said.
“It’s a lot of fun to work in it. We get a lot of banter going on in the kitchen,” he added. “It’s a blast to do it. Yeah, you’re very busy, but it’s also a lot of fun.”
The other plus to volunteering is if you work Friday night, you can eat as much food as you want.
“You’ll never go hungry back there when you’re serving,” Hansen noted.
The Solon American Legion fish fries begin Friday, Feb. 28, and run through April 10, serving from 5-7:30 p.m.
The three parking spaces in front of the Legion will be marked as handicapped parking from 4 to 7:30 p.m. each Friday night during the fish fries.