Local Parishes

Volunteer celebrates 50 years of service to her parish’s GermanFest celebration

Despite having worked all day (and week) in the parish kitchen, Maureen Steinbock couldn’t resist a late night dance with her grandson Jesse Steinbock. 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. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MARC ANDERSON

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.”

Volunteers at Topeka’s Sacred Heart-St. Joseph Parish wrap some of the 6,000 baked krautstrudels for the parish’s annual fundraiser known as GermanFest. Clockwise from left are: Craig Johnson, Jennifer Holthaus, Janet Olson and Peggy Haberkorn. In the back right is Carole Hawkins. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MARC ANDERSON

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.

Jim Pierce and Mary Dennis place a roasting pan of dumplings out for one of the four food lines. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MARC ANDERSON

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.

Maureen Steinbock has served as the head of the kitchen and food team for the parish’s GermanFest for 50 years. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MARC ANDERSON

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.

Maureen Steinbock shares a late night dance with her grandson Jesse Steinbock at GermanFest. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MARC ANDERSON

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.

About the author

Marc & Julie Anderson

Freelancers Marc and Julie Anderson are long-time contributors to the Leaven. Married in 1996, for several years the high school sweethearts edited The Crown, the former newspaper of Christ the King Parish in Topeka which Julie has attended since its founding in 1977. In 2000, the Leaven offered the couple their first assignment. Since then, the Andersons’ work has also been featured in a variety of other Catholic and prolife media outlets. The couple has received numerous journalism awards from the Knights of Columbus, National Right to Life and the Catholic Press Association including three for their work on “Think It’s Not Happening Near You? Think Again,” a piece about human trafficking. A lifelong Catholic, Julie graduated from Most Pure Heart of Mary Grade School and Hayden Catholic High School in Topeka. Marc was received into the Catholic Church in 1993 at St. Paul Parish – Newman Center at Wichita State University. The two hold degrees from Washburn University in Topeka. Their only son, William James, was stillborn in 1997.

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