FRANKLIN -- The curtain has come down on a 25-year run of community breakfasts in southern Chester County.
The Kemblesville United Methodist Men, who in 1988 set the events in motion with an early morning meal in the church basement for trout fishermen, called it quits this past weekend.
On the second Saturday of every month they have laid out a spread that could leaver even the most elite chef awestruck: scrapple, sausage, pancakes, eggs, hot biscuits, juices, creamed dried beef, sausage gravy, toast, coffee, French toast and more.
The community responded in kind, arriving faithfully in all kinds of weather to drop a few bucks in the till and fill their bellies with good old Chester County vittles. The crew rarely had a problem with leftovers, either storing them in freezers for the next breakfast or taking the extra meat home for their dogs.
“We never missed a month, even in bad weather. And in 25 years, we never really had a bad snowstorm on Saturday,” pancake cook Ted Haldemann said.
But this month on one of the most beautiful Saturdays to come along, they figuratively threw in their spatulas and potholders.
“We just couldn’t get enough help. It was time,” Methodist Men’s Crew Chief Bob Judy said.
On Saturday friends and neighbors turned out to enjoy the last meal and wish the men well.
Among those who came were the folks at the “Rowdy Table.” The group of aquaintances from the Newark, Del., and Elkton areas have come every month to make a lot of noise, share their lives and eat plenty of food. When a birthday rolls around, they bring a cake, and the Methodist men present it with candles and a the singing of “Happy Birthday.”
Back in the kitchen, they have a laugh when they see Rowdy Earl Panaro walk in.
“If you want to know who eats a lot, it’s Earl. He really packs it in,” steam table supervisor Don Palmer said.
Panaro said it’s sad that the breakfasts are over. “This is like a meeting place. We talk about what’s going on,” he said, adding, “The French toast is great. Ted (Haldemann) always makes the eggs the way you want it. If he breaks a yolk, he’ll throw in another egg.”
Another guest was Grace Crossan, who will turn 100 in November. “I don’t come every time, but I’ve been coming for a long time. I like the dried beef and gravy,” she said.
She said she her parents lived in Kemblesville, and she has a niece there who told her about the breakfasts.
But the group that came in the greatest numbers was the West Grove Fire Company. They arrived about 8:30 a.m. with not only their members, but their restored antique truck “Elsie” driven by firefighter Mike Predmore.
Fire Chief Eric Felker said the members come to the breakfast frequently, and those who have antique cars park them in the church parking lot for people to look at and talk about.
“We brought Elsie in honor of the last breakfast,” he said.
As the breakfast hours grew to a close, so many people had come for a last meal that the kitchen crew was running out of eggs, sausage and sausage gravy. Many people stopped at the kitchen to thank the men for their efforts through the years.
Judy said one woman even presented them with cupcakes with their names on them.
The members of the group in addition to Haldeman, Judy and Palmer are Joe Fanning, Mike Saylor, Earl Gibson, Barry Flewlling, Vern Creighton, Dick Farmer, Dave Rollins and Cub Pack 62.
Asked if they will ever return, maybe for a special event.
Judy said, “Perhaps.”
But it won’t be for trout season, because they heard the Landenberg church has a breakfast on that day.
Maybe for Easter or Christmas.