AUBURN — The DeKalb County Freefall Fair turns 90, but it has nothing on Jim Dwyer, Richard Garren, Tom Powell and Tom Woods.
The foursome volunteered for 146 years at the Spencerville Order of the Eastern Star donut stand.
With the exception of two years – last year when the fair was canceled due to the pandemic, and another year when there just wasn’t enough help – the donut stand was part of it. integral part of the fair, mostly at the northeast corner of Main and 7th Street, producing thousands and thousands of hot, sweet treats.
The partnership between OES and Concord Masonic Lodge goes back more than 70 years.
“These men are truly cast in the cornerstone of our donut trailer’s success,” said OES Worthy Matron Becky Hoover. “Their combined years of service are amazing.
“These men helped create the design for our new trailer and are responsible for all the wonderful new improvements that help make donuts faster and trouble-free.”
Jim Dwyer, at 89 “and three-quarters”, has helped for more than 60 years.
Donuts, OES and Concord Lodge actually date back to 1922 when they were served as refreshments at an OES chapter meeting, selling for $1.80 a dozen.
According to the groups’ stories, OES member Joe Baidinger learned to make donuts from his father, a baker.
After a fire in 1949 destroyed the lodge in Spencerville, the groups set out to raise funds. That first year, the bands made more money than they thought possible.
Although the methods of making donuts have changed over the years, they use the same recipe today.
“We used to roll them out by hand and cut them up, fry them, and flip them in a tent,” Dwyer explained. “We had another location for a short time, but then they moved us here, and we’ve been here ever since.”
Next to Dwyer, Powell, 82, reckons he’s been helping since his late twenties or early thirties.
For many years, groups used a tent to protect cooking equipment until a trailer was acquired. Today, the bands are on their second, more modern trailer.
“It’s a lot better now than before,” Powell said. “The old tent took a bunch of us to haul it in a farm truck and spend four to five hours putting it up. This trailer was a godsend.
“It gives me a good feeling that there is someone out there who wants to buy our product,” Dwyer said.
Garren and Woods helped out for 13-14 years.
All four said the camaraderie was the best part of working on the trailer.
“It’s a good group of people,” Powell said.
It takes more than 225 people – eight five-hour shifts at a time – to perform the various donut production tasks.
Since 2000, the OES and the Masonic Lodge have invited outside individuals and organizations to work shifts and earn money for their own causes while helping Spencerville-based groups.
“We get a lot of our employees from nonprofit organizations,” OES member Terri Rosenbury explained. “We will pay them $10 an hour to represent a non-profit organization.
“We have people who just want to help,” Rosenbury added. “We pay them in donuts – you get two dozen for a shift. A lady came yesterday and told me she was ready to work now.
The OES uses the money it raises from donut sales for several community projects each year.
“I feel good that we’re helping people,” Rosenbury said.
Donuts definitely have their diehards.
“There’s always a line here, every morning,” she added.
“Sunday didn’t count, but when we were setting up, someone asked if we had donuts,” Rosenbury said. “On Monday, we took a bet on what would be the first time.
“I chose 6:26; it was 6:27 a.m.,” she said. “(The sign) says we don’t start until 8, but they start early and they want their donuts.”
“We probably deploy more now in an hour than they did all day back then,” added Garren, 69.
Each day, Woods and Garren arrive early to heat up the stoves so that “when the team arrives, they’re ready to go,” Garren said. The couple inherited these duties from Dwyer and Powell.
“We’re deploying maybe 120 dozen an hour, and that’s about 13 hours a day,” Garren said. “The line is there pretty much all day.
“You never get caught up,” Woods added. “It wouldn’t matter if you had 10 machines.”
“Three years ago we were making 10,000 dozen all week,” Dwyer said. “It’s the most we’ve ever done. It’s a couple.
“Everyone has to taste one thing first in the morning,” Woods said.
“We never eat it,” Dwyer deadpans.
“You need to open at least one on each machine to make sure they’re done,” Garren said. “To be honest, I haven’t had one yet.”
“It’s only Tuesday,” Rosenbury said.
While most donuts are eaten during fair week, groups have sent their delicious treats across the United States – as far away as Arizona, California and Florida. Some people freeze them to reheat and enjoy later.
The members carefully guard their secret recipe.
“If I tell you what it is, I should kill you,” Dwyer interjects, prompting a roar of laughter from the others.
“It’s just two things,” Garren said. “It’s really nothing crazy.”
“The biggest thing is TLC,” Powell said.
“It’s nostalgia,” Woods said. “It’s been so long; it’s been passed down from generation to generation.
“I’m almost 70 and I remember coming to get donuts.”
“You’re getting old,” Dwyer told him.