Of service clubs and pancake breakfasts

Once State Fair season is over, once summer ebbs, once weekends become even more precious in the advancing season, the community pancake breakfast becomes a must-do event in a town.

In New Ulm, Minn., on Sunday, the Lions Club hosted its annual pancake breakfast at the local airport. Thousands of people turn out each year; it’s apparently the biggest fundraiser of the year for the service club.

There’s something about community feeds in the fall that can make a person feel positively fine about the way things are in the world after a week of being inundated with proof that they’re not.

You park a fire truck and police car on an airport ramp, and kids will head for the same spot every time. Every time.

For the most part, service club members look about the same no matter what pancake breakfast you attend — they’re funny, they’re happy, and they’re graying.

And in New Ulm, they’re real good at making pancakes.

Which is good because everyone in New Ulm seemed to be in the world’s longest pancake line today.

You really haven’t experienced New Ulm, I suspect, until you find yourself sitting in a giant airplane hangar with a polka band playing “Roll Out the Barrel,” eating pancakes and all the Tang you can drink.

These breakfasts, like the service clubs themselves, are an important thread in a community’s fabric.

Pilots in particular, I think, understand the challenge to the clubs. It’s difficult getting a younger generation to participate, although perhaps the reasons differ. People don’t learn to fly much anymore; the demographic of the sport is aging and there’s plenty of worry about the future of general aviation.

It’s one of the reasons I flew the plane in today, aside from the free pancakes.

The Lions Club lets everyone walk around and see beautiful airplanes up close, probably closer than a lot of people have ever been.

I had hoped to leave New Ulm before a nasty crosswind kicked up, but there were so many young people around that I knew what had to be done. I had to invite them to sit in an airplane and learn what makes them fly. So for another hour or so, dozens of kids got to sit in the plane, while parents took pictures and kids made airplane noises.

Maybe someday the kids will want to learn how to fly. Maybe they won’t. Maybe they’ll join the Lions Club and help their community. Maybe they won’t. Maybe they’ll stick around New Ulm and make it a better place. Maybe they’ll move to the big city. We’ll see.

Thanks for your hospitality, New Ulm Lions.

And, by the way: Thank you for your service.