By Kim McDarison
It might be an understatement to say that Edgerton native Buck Jenkins likes to fish, and not during the summer like most, no, his preferred season is winter, when the ice fishing’s good. He was so devoted to the sport, he said, that in 1997, he moved to Wisconsin’s north woods, just outside of Rinelander, where prevailing temperatures extended his fishing season by a month and a half. “That’s no joke,” he said. Appropriately acclimated to his northern home, he dug through the several layers of shirts he was wearing to prove that, amid the clothe, he could show a small patch of blue; that was his “Buck Jenkins Fish Fry” t-shirt. He’s got one in nearly every color, he said, and even though he lives away, he has attended nearly every annual fish fry event since his departure, but not last year, he said: “It’s the only one I had to miss; I don’t remember why.”
Genuine in his demeanor, and matter-of-fact in his recollections, Buck said he began what has become a community fundraiser in his home in 1978, as a matter of practicality: “I did it to get rid of the fish and feed all of my friends,” he said. “We had beer, too,” he added.
By his recollection, 100 people came to the first home-thrown fish fry, but, he said, “It got too big to keep it there,” so a friend, Jim “Plugger” Plautz, whom Buck described as a partner in crime, but also a guy who didn’t like to fish, offered what he could: his bar: “We ought to have it at the bar,” Buck remembered Plugger saying, and from there, an annual tradition was born.
Fast forward to the early 2000s. That’s when some Edgerton community members were looking for fundraising ideas, Edgerton resident, business owner and Edgerton Community Fund Advisory Board member Wendy Oren said. While others had the idea of enlisting Buck’s help first, she became involved because she had a connection, she said, noting that some of her family members and Buck were neighbors.
“I’m amazed; it makes me feel good that they use my name,” said Buck, now 74.
In 2001, what began as a community party meant to share friendship and fish became the largest fundraising event for the Edgerton Community Fund, a grant-based community support initiative administered through the Janesville-based Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin, both Oren and the foundation’s Rock and Walworth counties donor services representative Jane Maldonis said.
That organization was founded 25 years ago, Maldonis said, when a group of like-minded Janesville area businessmen passed a hat and came up with $5,000 to begin a 501c3 nonprofit organization. Armed with the idea of growing communities through charitable works, the group met with other community leaders, and the foundation grew. Today, Maldonis said, the foundation works with 16 community funds like Edgerton’s, further noting that any money made in Edgerton supports Edgerton. Dollars are collected through fundraisers and donations, and nonprofits within Edgerton looking to finance projects can apply for those monies through grant application. Annually, the Edgerton Community Fund Advisory Board looks at the applications and awards grants to projects. Since its inception, the fund has retuned between $48,000 and $50,000 to the community, Maldonis said.
Community businesses and their generosity are the drivers, Oren said, noting that the Edgerton Community Fund could not do its work without the support it gets from the business community. This year, she said, 80 area businesses each donated $100. Added to that money will be proceeds collected at the fish fry through raffle ticket sales, another board member, Tom Purnell said. While a fundraising goal was not set for this year, in years past, the board has opted to create named funds, in 2013, for instance, one was created in recognition of Plautz’s passing, and those require a starting amount of $10,000, Maldonis said. Recently, the Jim “Plugger” Plautz Fund awarded $900 to the Edgerton School District for a 4K Fall Fest “Trunk or Treat,” event the organization’s website states.
As these funds grow, Maldonis said, more grants can be offered to the community.
Still, with no goal set, both Oren and Purnell said they believed they’d achieve $10,000 this year, with Oren again stressing her gratitude for the community’s generosity.
As stated on the foundation’s website, grants awarded through the Edgerton Community Fund include: Edgerton High School Band and Choir Trip to NYC ($5,000); Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Rock, Jefferson and Edgerton Big Brothers Big Sisters Program ($500); Edgerton Dog Park ($600); Edgerton City Hall Pottery Plaza ($1,500); Edgerton Middle School iRead Book Challenge ($1,000), and School District of Edgerton-Artist in Residence ($200).
Those wishing to make a donation to the Edgerton Community Fund can do so through the foundation’s website, here.
Those serving on the Edgerton Community Fund Advisory Board include: Jen Apfel, Tracy Deavers, Ramona Flanigan, Steve Hein, Wendy Oren, Tom Purnell, Jan Roethe, and Shellie Yahnke. Board members can serve up to two consecutive three-year terms for a total of six years, Maldonis said.
A complete list of this year’s businesses making donations can be found on the fish fry’s placemat pictured below.
This year’s fish fry cooks include: Kurt Hudrlik, Seth Oren, Shane Oren, Rich Plywacz and Dave Yahnke.
Within the cozy atmosphere of the Red Baron Tavern, 124 West Fulton Street, patrons of the annual Buck Jenkins Fish Fry enjoy batter-dipped and fried blue gills, as supplied by local fishermen, and deviled eggs, as prepared by Edgerton Community Fund Advisory Board members, board member Jan Roethe said. The event is a fundraiser for the grant-based projects-oriented fund. Additional fish was donated by Culver’s restaurant.
In the tavern’s attached outdoor patio, Edgerton Community Fund Advisory Board members prepare and serve food. Other board members brought plated meals to patrons waiting inside, while still others sold raffle tickets for such prizes as 50/50 cash splits, cuts of beef, lottery tickets and a hunting club membership. Board members were helped with cooking by volunteers: Kurt Hudrlik, Seth Oren, Shane Oren, Rich Plywacz and Dave Yahnke.
Edgerton Community Fund Advisory Board member Tom Purnell (top right) mans the raffle ticket table. The fish fry food is free. Money to supply the fund comes through donations, this year made by some 80 area businesses, each of which gave $100, and raffle ticket sales, several board members explained. Among raffle opportunities, a big prize, donated by Exclusive Hunting Club, Edgerton, was valued at $660.
Happily in attendance as he has been for nearly every year, Buck Jenkins (at left), longtime resident of Edgerton, now living near Rinelander, humbly enjoys the event carrying his name and visits with friends (middle). Another longtime friend and former fish fry cohort, now deceased, Jim “Plugger” Plautz, is remembered fondly in storytelling by both Jenkins and Plautz’s brother, Don, Janesville (at right).
The Red Baron Tavern became the site of the Buck Jenkins Fish Fry after the size of its guest list outgrew his home, Jenkins said, and, years later, after former owner of 34 years, Jim Plautz, died in 2013, the new owner, Ilir Banushi (top, left) kept with tradition, continuing to host the event. Several Gifts for Kids elves (top, right) enjoy festivity and fish. A young fish fry patron, and his girl, enjoy the music (bottom, left) as played by band: Mad Tadders (bottom, right). To learn more about the locally-based band, visit its Facebook page here.
(Kim McDarison photos above)