Driving on Highway A into the rural community of Graham, the population sign reads 191.
But nearly double that pile into the Graham Community Building on the first Saturday of the month, from October to April, every year.
Since 1956, when the Graham Lions Club was chartered, they have hosted a Fish and Chicken Fry each month to raise money.
“The Graham Lions Club contributes to charitable causes around the Graham community and this fish fry is our fundraiser,” President Dave Moore said. “It also gives people from the community the chance to come visit and get a good meal.”
While they feed 350 people on average each time, club member Richard Vogel said they once fed 450 people. And that’s a lot of fish to be fried.
According to members “Doc” Dave Rybolt, Wayne Hartman and harlen Linville, they usually buy between 350 and 400 pounds of fish from Hall’s Market in Forest City. They also get food from the Sysco Corporation, including 200 pounds of children to fry and 300 pounds of potatoes to make french fries and baked potatoes, as well as lettuce, cabbage and tomatoes to make salad. And they go through 30 to 35 gallons of oil.
October 7 marked the first fry of this year, but with temperatures in the 80s and farmers still out working in the fields, their numbers were down from previous years’ first event of the fall. Even still, the community building was packed.
“It takes a lot of work and able bodies to put one of these on,” Rybolt said. “We have about 16 members here working, but it needs to be about double that.”
Rybolt also said their numbers are dwindling, so they’re considering this to be their last year of the fish fry.
“It’s like any service organization,” he said. “We’re not getting any new people and all the rest of us are getting too old.”
Not everyone agreed, though, with the getting old part.
“Not me,” Linville said. “I’m 88 and still running,” who sat peeling potatoes and making jokes with the other members. While it was hot in the kitchen, plenty of laughs and good times were had by the members as they worked.
“It also gives our members a chance to work together in a common effort,” Moore said. “Most of our members are farmers or men who own businesses that relate to farming. We’re busy people and this is our way to give back.
“I wish more young people would realize the benefits of this and join.”
In addition to contributing to causes in the Graham community, the proceeds from the fish fry also go to the Lions Club eye research projects and a scholarship program at both South Nodaway and Nodaway-Holt high schools.
“Anything that’s needed in the community, we try to help out with that,” Linville said.
The local Cub Scout troop was also on hand to help clean up dishes from off the tables.