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The North Bend Eagle

North Bend Chamber of Commerce pancake feed
Steve Grueber has been the chair of the Chamber of Commerce pancake feed for 25 years. Next year, he will had the reins over to someone else.

Counting stops at 25 for Grueber

Volunteer chaired Chamber pancake feed for a quarter century

by Mary Le Arneal
Published 12/15/10

Counting plates is not a bad job. Steve Grueber has done it a number of times, 50-plus times in the 25 years he has chaired the North Bend Chamber of Commerce annual pancake feed. This is how he knows how many people ate at the free event. The number has reached as high as 1,000 in 1973 and 1979 and dipped as low as 370 in 2005.

For many it is a one-day, one-evening event. But for Grueber, 61, it is an intense three-day job that takes up time two to three months in advance and lasts until the day after. This was his final year as chairman, prompting him to make a “Chairman’s Guide” for Pete Bellrud, his successor.

“It’s something I never had,” Grueber said, “and I’m sure I’ll be there to help him.”

Grueber’s history with the Chamber of Commerce began in 1978 when he moved to North Bend and joined the Chamber, helping with the pancake feed by typing up the work schedules. The Rev. Stanislaus Golik had chaired the event since 1971 and asked Gruber to co-chair in 1984. In 1985 he was elected vice president of the Chamber and he began chairing the pancake feed. He’s been doing it ever since.

First he chaired a four-hour Pancake feed with 700 to 1,000 people attending. In 1987 they started cutting down on serving hours, ending up with the two hours, 6 to 8 p.m. in 1997, with the attendance averaging around 500 people served.

Grueber begins his pancake planning in mid-September when he looks at other community events and auditorium availability and sets the date. He then contacts the Community Band to see the date agrees with its schedule — the band has been playing since 1987 — and the Optimists about arranging for a visit from Santa Claus.

Grueber orders supplies based on the most recent year’s numbers. Lately it has been planned for 500. He usually has plenty of supplies, though he always saves some back to open as needed. What is not used can be returned if not opened.

One of his most vivid memories is of 1984, when a blizzard blew in. They just about canceled the event, but decided to go ahead and hold it since everything was ready. They expected a small crowd.

“We had one of our highest attendance in years,” Grueber said. “They came by snowmobile or any way shape or form they could get there. It was a big surprise that we had 850 people show up. It was just because people couldn’t do anything else.”

Grueber cited several possible reasons the attendance has dwindled in the last 18 years to around 500 people. This year 470 people attended.

“It’s because people just don’t want to come out,” he said. “They don’t want to eat pancakes and look at diet differently now. Competition for their time is different. People don‘t want to stand around and visit like they used to. Whatever the reason is, (the pancake feed) doesn‘t have the draw that it used to.”

Since 1999 a Santa Claus visit has brought in young families once again to the auditorium, as well as the Community Band that Grueber says has added a lot to the festivity to the evening.

The grills are rented or borrowed from other organizations. The food is purchased from local merchants.

Grueber said he purchases 120 pounds of pancake mix, 80 pounds of sausage (that used to be fried, but has been baked the last three years), enough coffee to make 400 cups and 25 gallons of orange drink. He starts setting up the day before, picking up grill and other items. Grueber is last one to leave the night of the feed, putting things away and getting ready to return items the next day.

Grueber keeps the work list basic and tries not to change it around so that he does not have to retrain people every year.

“It just wouldn’t be efficient,” he said. “Some people have been doing the same job forever. There is a good nucleus of chairmen who always get done what needs to get done.”

Grueber gives credit to other Chamber of Commerce members who have been doing projects longer than he has and are always dependable to help with the pancake feed.

“Every year something changes a little,” Grueber said. “You have to revamp something. The chairmen and officers of the Chamber have filled in wherever needed.”

The Chamber spends $800 on the feed and Grueber wonders if the money could be spent more wisely. It does not have the purpose it had when the pancake feed was first held in 1955.

“It’s a social event,” Grueber said of today’s pancake feed. “There’s lots of good chuckling, talking, jawing going on. It’s a chance to see people you may not have seen for a while. It’s a microcosm of a lot of different things going on in the community at the time. I expected to hear comments on the vacant area south of the auditorium, but I didn’t hear a single comment.”

Grueber feels the Chamber still benefits from the event.

“It’s a good networking and/or invigorating kind of thing for the (Chamber of Commerce) members. We usually have a good turnout of Chamber members.”

Now, Grueber is ready to retire from the chairmanship.

“It’s not an bad job, I’m just ready to let someone else chair it,” Grueber said. “I can’t say it’s fun, but I don’t hate it. I’m happiest when I can help. That’s just the way it is.”

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