SIDNEY — Fellow members of the Kiwanis Club of Sidney, who know that Phil Freytag, of Sidney, hasn’t missed working at a club Labor Day Chicken Barbecue since he joined the group, might think that the event this year would be his 51st, but they’d be wrong.
Freytag’s participation at the annual fundraiser goes back way before 1966, the year he became a member and began to help pack the popular dinners.
“I remember going there with my parents in the 1950s. They’d have a paper plate and paper bag and you’d go to the picnic table,” Freytag said recently.
This year’s barbecue, the club’s largest fundraiser, will be in the tan building on the Shelby County Fairgrounds, Sept. 5, from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. or until the chicken dinners are sold out. Meals cost $7 if tickets are bought in advance, $8 at the door. They comprise a half chicken, potato chips, applesauce, a roll and butter.
Tickets can be purchased in advance at Bunny’s Pharmacy, 112 S. Main Ave.; Dekker’s Flowers, 223 N. Main Ave.; Ron & Nita’s, 134 S. Main Ave., Best One Tire, 120 Stolle Ave., and Sidney Tire, 1231 Wapakoneta Ave. Proceeds support college and leadership conference scholarships, the Cribs for Kids project, the high school Key Club, the Shelby County Aktion Club and donations to various civic programs.
The Labor Day meal is a local tradition going back more than 65 years. It was the brainchild of Herb Schlater and Carl Rueth.
Freytag has been on the packing and bagging crew, as he called it, for almost all the years he’s been involved.
“Most of the time, we grilled our own chickens, built pits and grilled it on charcoal,” he said. “We’d get the chicken halves and a group would clean off the fat and pluck feathers that were missed. One of the ministers in the club would pray for good weather.”
Members made and cut cakes to serve with the meals and provided orange drink. While the chickens cooked, men with industrial sprayers would spray the birds with barbecue sauce made from a secret recipe.
But things have changed over the years. In 2003 or 2004, according to Freytag, rain flooded the fairgrounds and put out the fires.
“So it was not a very successful year that year,” he said. Since then, the club has purchased the chickens precooked. For the last several years, those purchases have come from Romer’s in St. Marys.
“We gave them the (sauce) recipe,” Freytag said.
Although the event has always been on the fairgrounds, the use of the tan building has been a more recent development.
“One time, there was a little 10-foot by 12-foot building and we served through that,” he said. Then, the club moved to a caterer’s building, then to “a little white building” and finally to the blue building, which was painted a few years ago and became the tan building.
Diners can eat inside the building, but most people take advantage of a drive-through opportunity.
“We’ve had drive-up for at least 50 years,” Freytag said. “Only 200 or less eat in.” The club typically sells 2,000 meals during the day.
The chickens arrive at 10:30 a.m. in insulated carriers to keep them hot. It’s up to club members to assemble the elements of the meals into individual containers. It’s done in assembly line fashion. That’s been Freytag’s specialty and that process has changed through the years, too.
Assembly used to start the day before Labor Day, but when cutting cake and pouring drinks were discontinued, start time changed to 9 a.m. on Labor Day.
“We did paper bags for quite a while,” Freytag said of how the meals were packaged. “Then we went to folding and stapling our own boxes. Making boxes got to be too cumbersome. Then we went to boxes that popped open and would be folded. Now, we’re with plastic gizmos with compartments.”
Helping at the barbecue has “always been fun,” he added. He likes watching people interact with others.
“It’s kind of a duty as a member of the club to support it. I guess I’ll do it as long as I can,” he said.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.