Chowder and run: Swormville parish hosts annual picnic

Wed, Jul 15th 2015 09:00 am
Staff Reporter
Parishioner Patrick Spoth stirs up some chowder at the St. Mary Swornville Lawn Fete. The parish has held the picnic since 1845. 
(Patrick McPartland/Staff Photographer)
Parishioner Patrick Spoth stirs up some chowder at the St. Mary Swornville Lawn Fete. The parish has held the picnic since 1845. (Patrick McPartland/Staff Photographer)

This month, St. Mary Parish in Swormville will continue a long-standing tradition that dates back to the 19th century, as well as a newer one that will keep Western New Yorkers on their toes. At 7 p.m., on Friday, July 17, the parish is hosting its Chowder Chase annual 5K Run/3K Walk, There will be an outdoor Mass at 6 p.m., Saturday, July 18, and the 166th annual parish picnic from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m., Sunday, July 19.

The race begins and ends near the church at Transit and Stahley Roads, and all participants will receive a ticket for a free beverage and slice of pizza. Attendees will also be able to buy food from Lloyd Taco Truck and Sassi Cakes and hear music by New York Rockin' Revue from 6:30-10:30 p.m.

On July 19, St. Mary will serve its famous chicken and clam chowder and homemade chicken dinners, which will be available until sold out. For children, families and attendees of all ages, St. Mary will feature an assortment of gifts, trinkets and treasures, games of skill and chance.

"Sunday is our original picnic. Our famous chicken and clam chowder is the feature, and we also have chicken dinners," said Edward Burkard, an event planner, parishioner and trustee of St. Mary who has been involved with the picnic planning since the 1950s. "I think they're going to have a water dunk tank this year. In the evening, there will be music and dancing featuring the Boys of Summer."

Saturday is mainly a day of preparation for the picnic. Turnout for the picnic is typically good, since the chowder is a draw, but the picnic has evolved into an early-afternoon event.

"We're trying to have a big crowd all day long, like we used to have years ago, but there are so many events going on that it seems that the crowd thins out, but our dinners are big up until 7 o'clock at night," Burkard said. "We serve over 1,000 chicken dinners and we've added the dancing in the evening."

In preparing for the picnic, Burkard works with Ed Saccoccia, the picnic chairperson, who is responsible for the schedule of events each year. The picnic began as a celebration in the late 1800s, which was merely a gathering of people in the community for the purpose of fellowship and sharing stories.

"Around 1899, it involved what we called a picnic and it became a fundraiser for the church," Burkard said. "It was never a fundraiser until then. Around the 1920s was when the famous chicken and clam chowder came into the picnic, and that was probably the biggest feature when that happened."

In past years, Burkard has gotten positive feedback, even as it has changed as interests, especially those of children, evolved. It has consistently been a community-building event. Burkard emphasized the chicken dinners are homemade, barbecued by the planners themselves, which separates the St. Mary picnic from other similar events that bring in catered dinners.

"We give the people a fair shake," he said. "They get a really nice dinner with a very good dessert, which is included in the dinner price. It does well, so we're really good at that."

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