The Ottumwa Courier

November 17, 2013

A community table

Courier staff writer

OTTUMWA — It's not unusual to hear complaints about portion size at dinner. It's a little odd to hear cries of disbelief.

"I can't finish all that," said one stunned guest as she collected her tray of homemade lasagna.

"You can always take the rest home," said the man behind the counter, American Legion officer George Rumph.

Approximately once each month, the American Legion hosts a dinner for the public. Other organizations around town do the same with more or less frequency. This was the first time the Legion was trying lasagna.

Rumph asked the woman who was next, "How hungry are you?"

She pointed at the tray ahead of hers and replied, "Not THAT hungry.

American Legion board member Phil Keck chuckled as he dished out salad and garlic-cheese bread.

He said by the time Rumph had put together a "to go" package, "... it must weigh two pounds," Keck said.

The guys said they wanted to make sure everyone got their money's worth. Their helper, Sharon Stoat, "put a lot of love" into the pans of lasagna.

And a lot of pasta: each pan looked like someone stacked a lasagna on top of a lasagna.

"It's very good," said Lucy Starr-Rumph, the newly married bride of George Rumph. She and some friends shared favorable reviews of the dish, including praising the idea to have something a little different than the typical community fish fry.

So did Lucy plan to help in the kitchen?

"Oh no. The men don't want [us] back there," she said.

Not even to wash dishes, she added, pointing out the post commander, John Hart, who was scrubbing away at plates in the pot sink.

"The men are independent," Starr-Rumph continued. "They each know what the other is going to do."

Hart said they don't hold the dinners as a specific fund raiser. It's more of a service, he said, designed to bring the community together for a meal.

"I agree with that," said Sharon Stoat, co-owner of the Recovery Room restaurant in Ottumwa.

She doesn't run a catering service, but she does know how to make lasagna, and the idea of bringing people together appeals to her. She spent about five hours in the American Legion kitchen Saturday with George Rumph as her assistant.

"That's the most I've made!" she said.

The volunteers behind the counter estimated she'd produced over a hundred pounds of the sauce, noodles, meat and cheese that is layered and then baked as a type of steamy Italian pie.

She and her husband look for opportunities to help the American Legion, the VFW or their auxiliaries.

Stoat left the serving up to the men. On Sunday, however, she pointed out the one thing she'd forgotten to do.

"I didn't get a piece," she said. "And we didn't feel up to driving back over there [so] I ended up having a bowl of vegetable soup."

To follow reporter Mark Newman on Twitter, see @CourierMark