May Breakfast marks its 100th anniversary

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The Monona Methodist Church’s 100th annual May Breakfast will be held Saturday, May 6, from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. (Submitted photos)

The May Breakfast was originally held the first day of May, but in 1985 was moved to the first Saturday. The menu includes scrambled and poached eggs; Kermit sausages; homemade sweet rolls, muffins and bread; applesauce; juice; milk and coffee.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

The weather’s growing warmer, flowers are blooming, farmers are working in the fields—all tell tale signs that May has finally arrived in Monona. The surest sign of all, however, is the Methodist Church’s annual May Breakfast. Originally held the first day of May, it’s now served the first Saturday of May. This year’s breakfast will take place at Living Faith UMC, in Monona, on Saturday, May 6, from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m., marking the event’s 100th anniversary.

“The May Breakfast started 100 years ago as a fundraiser for the Congregational Church,” shared organizer Ila Benzing. “The first breakfast was held in the parsonage. For the next five years, it was in the houses of the members. They could serve whatever they wanted.”

In fact, an account from those early years states that the breakfast held at P.A. Jordahl’s home on North Main Street was especially notable: “Esther Davis and Parma Wilson had the idea of serving baking powder biscuits and maple syrup, so down to Wilson’s woods they went, tapped the trees, and, with the help of Elizabeth Smith and Flora Davis, made sufficient maple syrup that particular May Breakfast.”

Ila said the Congregational Church later became the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) Church. In 1967-1968, it merged with the Methodist Church, forming the United Methodist Church. Through the transitions, however, the May Breakfast tradition was kept alive.

Ila said she’s unsure why May 1 was originally selected as the breakfast date, but speculates it had to do with the German traditions surrounding May Day.

“A lot of early residents would’ve had German background,” she noted.

One of the breakfast’s earliest highlights, Ila said, was the inclusion of wildflowers.

“They would go out and gather wildflowers,” she remarked, with the most notable being Dutchman’s breeches. “It was a flower that was generally in bloom at this time.”

This tradition fell by the wayside 15 to 20 years ago, she said, as the ladies who were involved grew older and the locations to pick flowers became more scarce.

“One year, a lady made Maypole centerpieces,” she said, “so we’ve had that every year after we quit doing the flowers.”

Many May Breakfast traditions have continued, though. Ila said the menu has remained relatively unchanged for 50 years, minus the introduction of scrambled eggs in 1985. That occurred around the time the breakfast moved from the first day of May to the first Saturday, which she said was likely to accommodate people’s work schedules.

“Over the years, there are folks who have come just for the poached eggs,” Ila said of one of the breakfast’s signature dishes.

Another signature food is Kermit sausages, named for Kermit Klinge, who owned a local butcher shop. Ila said the church served those sausages, with Kermit’s own special spices, until 15 years ago, then moved to sausage patties. The change didn’t go well, however, and they are now back to offering Kermit sausages.

“It’s a local touch,” she said.

May Breakfast attendees are always seated and served family style, while people wait on the tables, Ila shared. 

“We’ve continued the tradition of younger members of the church as waitresses,” she said, adding, however, that they’re no longer required to wear dresses. “The younger kids, who are confirmation age, clear and reset the tables. It’s how we break them in to help.”

Ila said it takes about 50 workers to run the May Breakfast, performing everything from organization, table decorating, baking and cooking.

“Some ladies have been poaching eggs for years. People often have the same job for life,” she laughed, noting that some people get upset if they aren’t given the same duties. “Some prefer to work behind the scenes, while others like to mix and meet people.”

The May Breakfast averages 250 people, but as many as 400 have attended, Ila said. It’s a tradition for many families and groups of friends.

“Some families have four or five generations who’ve been involved with this,” she said. “That’s neat to think about.”

The church and community camaraderie is what she’s most enjoyed about the May Breakfast, mentioned Ila.

“It’s a time to get a lot of people working together from the church,” she said. “You see people you don’t often see. It’s bonding time with the community.”

While the amount of work needed to put on the May Breakfast has several times caused the church to consider ending the tradition, she said it’s always kept going.

“I think it’s really neat that the church has been able to do it this many years,” she stated.

For more about the May Breakfast, see the ad in this week's paper.

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