by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — Golden anniversaries are usually celebrated by those united in marriage or those who make it to 50 years of ordained ministry or religious life.
In Topeka, though, Maureen Steinbock, a member of Sacred Heart-St. Joseph Parish, just observed an unusual type of anniversary.
For 50 years, she has served as the head of the kitchen and food team for the parish’s GermanFest, held annually in early June. The festival doubles not only as a celebration of German heritage but also as a fundraiser for the parish and Holy Family Grade School, the school the parish shares with its neighboring parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Funds raised also go toward Hayden, Topeka’s only Catholic high school.
Prior to the outdoor Mass (celebrated in both English and German), the parish’s pastor (and native son) Father Tim Haberkorn honored Steinbock for her volunteer service to the parish, saying, “She’s made a lot of sacrifices, and we really appreciate all of the help she’s given us through the years.”
It all began in 1973.
That was the year the 37-year-old Steinbock and her mother made 300 krautstrudels — and the parish started its annual celebration of German heritage, honoring the members’ ethnic heritage. Father Robert Bonn served as the pastor.
“I can still see [my mother] back in the kitchen the year we made 300. She said to me, ‘Maureen, you’ve got to keep it up.’ And I haven’t let her down,” Steinbock said.
These days, Steinbock and the many volunteers around her make nearly 6,000 krautstrudels.
“That’s what people come for,” Steinbock said.
Still, krautstrudels account for one just item.
There’s also sauerbraten, brats, noodles, dumplings and hot German potato salad, among other selections. And then there’s the desserts — cinnamon rolls (made from the same dough used for the krautstrudels), pies, German chocolate cake and grebble (fried dough often known as grebble doughnuts), just to name a few.
“You only do the German thing once a year, and people come for it,” Steinbock said.
At 87, Steinbock shows no signs of slowing down. And despite having worked all week in the kitchen and both days of the event itself, every year you can usually spot her on the dance floor near the end of the first night.
Steinbock attributes the success she has enjoyed in the kitchen for the past five decades to a lot of different factors, but they essentially come down to one fact. Everyone who volunteers at GermanFest, especially those in the kitchen, see themselves as one big family.
In fact, Steinbock’s own family — including her brothers and sons — have assisted in the kitchen along with other parishioners.
Even people who don’t belong to the parish assist Steinbock. For decades, a friend of hers has volunteered her time.
“She’s not Catholic, but she’s here for every GermanFest,” said Steinbock, adding that she’ll forever be grateful for her friend’s willingness to serve the parish.
“We’re just a family,” she added, “a great big family.
“We get together. We work hard, but we play hard, too.”
“It’s fun. By the second night, you’re really tired, and by the fifth, you can’t move. But that’s OK,” she said, laughing.
Food preparation starts the week before the event. Volunteer crews of 30 to 50 people show up each day to make all of the menu items. Given the number of people necessary for the task, you might think Steinbock makes hundreds of phone calls.
Actually, she doesn’t.
“You get started a month or six weeks early. Get your stuff ordered,” she said. “You get to your parishioners and tell them the schedule you’re going to do. I call no one. They come down on their own.”
Every year, she simply publishes a kitchen schedule in the parish bulletin in advance. She has no problem getting help. People just show up every day, working anywhere from a few hours to 12 or more.
When asked why she thinks the volunteers are willing to serve, Steinbock said there are two reasons.
“They love being down here,” she said, “and they do it for their church. They love Sacred Heart-St. Joseph Parish.”
Parishioner and longtime fellow kitchen volunteer Ron Meier agreed, saying it’s all about priorities.
“It’s how a community and church should be,” he said.
To view three popular German recipes from the festival, click here.