Corny tradition
Lions Club continues to dish out fields of corn, 
benefit local charities

By LEE COLONY - Special to GM Today 

August 6, 2008

Members of the New Berlin Eisenhower dance team dish up some roasted corn Saturday at the New Berlin Lions Club corn roasting site at the Wisconsin State Fair. In the back are Bree Surges and Cindy Duffin, and in front are Taylor Wilson and Laura Jacobsen.

New Berlin Lions Club member Lloyd Bornemann and his group ought to know more than a little about whatís most important for many Wisconsin State Fair visitors - namely, food, and lot of it.

The club marked its 50th year of specifically serving up a state fair food staple, corn. And the New Berlin Lions Club venue at the fair is no small operation - Bornemann says the club will likely sell a little more than 100,000 ears of corn by the time the 11-day fair is completed, in addition to using 1.5 tons of butter and grossing $250,000 in sales. The club owns five units that can cook up to 800 ears an hour, so thatís up to 4,000 ears of corn per hour, if needed.

"People come here for the corn," said Bornemann, the clubís publicity chairman. "Oh, they come to the fair for other things, too, obviously. But when it comes to food, itís the corn and the cream puffs."

At 50 years, the club has sold to thousands of fair-goers, many of which say they came back to buy and eat an ear of corn year after year. Carol and Norb Stadler, Milwaukee, have returned to the Lions Club corn stand for 30 years.

"Basically, itís one of your stops, one of your haunts, if you will, at the fair," said Norb. "My next stop will be to have a Sheboygan brat. Itís a tradition."




Norb points out they donít buy corn at any other of the summer festivals, opting only to taste the corn at the Lions Club state fair site.

"I love the corn," says Carol.

Barbara Kershner, Menomonee Falls, said her family doesnít come to the state fair every year, but when they do, they always make sure to munch on some of the Lions Club corn.

"It always seems to taste better here than when you make it at home," said Kershner, with a smile. "Oh, and I like the butter - when they dunk it into that big vat of butter, thatís pretty special."

Kershner said she believes food becomes a tradition at a fair because "this is something that you only get once a year, so that makes it special."

And it appears for Kershner, the food tradition of corn will continue in her family, as her sons, Wilson, 2, and Calvin, 5, clamored for more corn.

In addition to the tradition and sweetness of the corn, Norb Stadler says thereís another reason why he buys it year after year.

"Itís good corn, but what makes this better is that itís going to charity," he said. "They could charge $5 an ear and I still would pay it. The majority of this doesnít go in someone elseís pocket, it goes to charity."

Bornemann said many groups benefit each year from the corn roast. After starting out in Butler in 1957, the club moved the operation to the state fair in 1958 and it has since met with success. The ties the effort has to the community and the groups it serves run deep and across generations. And thatís just the surface of it - about 1,200 volunteers, including Lions Club members, run the operation each year and create memories of their own.

More than 50 Waukesha County groups are funded through the effort, in addition to others from southeastern Wisconsin and statewide organizations. Individuals from city, police, fire, high school and other groups donate their time to the corn roast. Those from civic groups are compensated for the number of hours their members donate to the roast, Bornemann said. No one working the roast receives money for doing so - itís all volunteer.

For instance, four members of the New Berlin Eisenhower dance group - Laura Jacobson, Taylor Wilson, Bree Surges and Cindy Duffin - volunteered their time Saturday. There will be 17 volunteers from their group working 15 hours each, and their group will receive $6 per hour of time volunteered, they said.

Bornemann, whoís also been president of the New Berlin Lions Club twice, says the corn and the fair are traditions for many, as well as simply a meal.

"I have seen people buy eight ears of corn for themselves and eat it," he said. "Usually if they buy one, they come back for another - itís really good corn."

By the numbers

CORN SOLD: Estimated more than 100,000 this year

GROSS SALES: $250,000 (estimated)

RECORD: 166,000 ears of corn; if the average corn cob is 8 inches, you could have laid the cobs end-to-end from Goerkeís Corners west on Interstate 94 to the Jefferson County line.

COOKING CAPACITY: Five units that can cook up to 800 ears an hour, or up to 4,000 total ears per hour

WORK FORCE: 1,200 volunteers staff the site, combined, over the 11 days

BUTTER USED: 1.5 tons of Wisconsin butter

How is it kept sweet?

Itís fresh corn picked daily at fields in East Troy and Mequon. The corn is kept in a large refrigerated unit at the clubís site at the Wisconsin State Fair, which allows the corn to retain its sweetness.

This story appeared in The Freeman on August 6, 2008.