Feeding the Soul: Church's lobster boil a tradition for 50 years

DeKALB – For Jocelyn Prall of DeKalb, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s lobster boil is a family and community tradition of four generations and 50 years.

Prall has been a member of the church since 1962, when her family moved to DeKalb so her father could become the church’s priest.

“I was a teenager when the lobster boil started, and I think I’ve only missed one boil because I was out of town,” Prall said. “For me, it’s become a tradition. My parents were involved, I’ve been involved, my three sons were involved and last year, my grandson helped. It’s become a tradition for four generations and 50 years.”

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s 50th annual lobster boil, held in collaboration with the Episcopal Church Women Ministry, will take place Saturday, May 19, at the church, 900 Normal Road in DeKalb. Live lobsters cost $18, with pickup at 4 p.m. Cooked lobsters cost $20, with pickups at 5, 6 and 7 p.m. Deadline for orders is Monday, May 14.

The lobster boil tradition began with Edward Fitzgerald and his wife, Norma. After moving to DeKalb from Massachusetts, Edward would boil lobsters for the General Electric staff in DeKalb. In 1969, Norma Fitzgerald and Mary Roberts organized the church’s first lobster boil event.

“When the lobster boil first started, you couldn’t find lobsters here anywhere, only at certain restaurants,” Brown said. “The lobsters were flown in and had to be picked up at the airport. Now the lobsters are transported by truck. They’re as fresh as you can get them off the coast of New England.”

Once the lobsters arrive via truck, they are either kept live for sale or boiled for 20 minutes in metal horse troughs. After cooking, the lobsters are separated for orders into thermal carry-out bags. Most years average around 1,500 lobsters sold. However, during the 1970s, as many as 3,500 lobsters were sold in one year.

The lobsters are served via drive-thru, with guests never having to leave their car. Each meal contains one 1.25-to-1.5-pound lobster, a bib and directions on how to eat the crustacean.

“After cooking, the freshly cooked lobsters are taken home to eat for dinner or a party,” said Pat Brown, co-chair of the lobster boil. “After the boil, at the end of the day, all of the helpers get together at the church for a party. We bring salad, rolls and desserts and share a meal together in fellowship.”

Half of the proceeds from the lobster boil are donated to five local charities that directly help people in need: Children’s Waiting Room at the DeKalb County Courthouse, Family Service Agency, Hope Haven, Safe Passage and Voluntary Action Center. The other half of the proceeds helps fund church activities through the year.

“What I love about the event is that 50 percent of the proceeds go to help people in the community,” lobster boil committee member Jennie Cummings said. “The whole church gets involved in the event and we’re helping others. Adults cook the lobsters and the kids are runners, delivering the lobsters to the cars.”

Cummings’ husband, Bill, has been helping with the lobster boil for 34 years. Although Bill Cummings is allergic to shellfish, he helps cook the lobsters every year. He always brings a grill and steaks to eat for the church’s get-together after the lobster boil.

Each year, Brown remembers to buy a few extra lobsters for her children. After taking the lobsters home and freezing them, she mails them overnight to her daughter in Washington, D.C., and her son in St. Louis.

“My family loves lobster but they can’t be here for the event, so I overnight them lobsters,” Brown said. “Attending the lobster boil together used to be our tradition, but now sending them some from home is becoming a new tradition.”

The Rev. Ed Bird, interim rector, said he can’t imagine the church not continuing the lobster boil tradition.

“Over the years, the lobster boil has touched so many lives financially by helping local charities,” Bird said. “It feels like it’s a small part of our church’s calling, to help people and have fun while doing it. I think it all comes from our love of feeding people body, mind and soul. The lobsters play a role in that, connecting us together as people of the community.”

For information about the lobster boil or to place orders, call 815-756-4888 or visit www.stpaulsdekalb.org or www.facebook.com/StPaulsLobsterBoil.

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