Dessert table

Bernie Fernandez, right, serves up homemade desserts at the 43rd edition of the St. Mary of the Visitation salad luncheon at the Knights of Columbus Hall.

OTTUMWA — When I was asked to head out to the annual St. Mary of the Visitation salad luncheon at the Knights of Columbus Hall last week, I was expecting to find a few dozen ladies enjoying a leisurely lunch. I was wrong.

Instead, I found a line out the door and the hall bursting to the seams of hundreds of people enjoying every kind of salad you can imagine: Jell-O, pasta, lettuce, fruit and meat. Then there were deviled eggs, sandwiches and homemade desserts. And don’t forget the drinks.

Then there were the centerpieces. Each table was set with a bold and colorful flower arrangement that was created and donated by Diana Celania.

Mary Kivlahan, who helped organize the 43rd edition of the event, said that all the salads and desserts are donated by parish members with about 35-40 people working at the event.

“Everybody just pitches in and helps. It’s a fun event, a good fellowship event,” she added. And it’s not just church members that come out to enjoy the luncheon, Kivlahan said, noting that people from the entire community come out to support the fundraiser the church holds every spring, usually shortly after Easter.

As people continued to pour in the door, Mary Pester, a longtime worker of the event, explained that all the money raised goes toward the upkeep of the altar at St. Mary of the Visitation and other things around the church. Pester, while taking ticket after ticket, noted that the event usually brings in around 400 people and brings in about $3,000 for the church. “It’s really well-known. It gets better every year.”

And that statement was backed up by the bustling atmosphere of the luncheon. Workers were hustling from table to table getting things set for the next person, or they were bustling to and from the kitchen to bring out more food.

Greetings of “Hi friend” and “Hello neighbor” could be heard above the din of people enjoying conversation over their variety of salads. And the self-serve line for food was never empty. It was hard to move around without having to say, “Excuse me,” to somebody you had inadvertently bumped into. But no one seemed to mind — in fact, everyone seemed to be having a great time, even those who were woking rather than eating.

“It’s a successful event,” said Bernie Fernandez as she handed out homemade creations at the dessert table. “It’s so much fun.”

And food wasn’t the only offering on the table. Jo’an Hennen was busy at a corner table selling raffle tickets for a reversible antique quilt, which had been donated for the cause. Hennen, who has been quilting for at least 20 years, also had other items for sale: bed rolls, dresses for little girls, hot pads, neck pillows, a book of her poems and paintings, cards featuring her paintings and more. “I’m selling them, but I’m giving all the money back to the church,” she said.

Tracy Goldizen can be reached at and followed @CourierTracy.


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Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's features and magazine editor, leading production of the award-winning "Ottumwa Life" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.

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