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Meredith Holt, Published February 15 2014

Pancake Karnival draws thousands

FARGO – Temps were below freezing Saturday, but as far as sisters-in-law Marilyn Jensen and Leona Paulsrud are concerned, the Fargo Kiwanis Pancake Karnival is the area’s first sign of spring.

“We always say, ‘Oh, spring is coming, it’s the first sign of spring!’ ” said Jensen, 77, of Fargo.

If the abundance of pancakes, sausages and orange juice means spring is coming, a snowmelt should be right around the corner.

Todd Zabel, president of Fargo Kiwanis, said volunteers serve an average of three pancakes per person at the Pancake Karnival, in its 56th year. So, if the expected 10,000 to 12,000 attendees each ate three, that’s 30,000 to 36,000 pancakes.

By 3 p.m., a total of 8,200 people had been served and the crowd had thinned. Some, like Jensen and Paulsrud, waited out the busiest hours “because it’s not as congested,” said Paulsrud, 80, of Fargo.

Others, Zabel speculated, stopped by the Fargodome for a mid-afternoon “breakfast” after an event, like a basketball game.

Deb Baer, who’d just started her shift as a pancake-flipper at the Loehle Gast Seconds station Saturday afternoon, said most people come back for seconds, “at least one more sausage and one more pancake.”

There was plenty of batter at the ready for seconds, and whatever food’s left over will be returned if unopened or donated to local shelters.

Final numbers weren’t available Saturday night, but Zabel said the Pancake Karnival raises between $30,000 and $40,000 each year, which goes toward organizations such as the YMCA, YWCA, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Boys State, Girls State, Special Olympics and more.

More than 500 volunteers, including 110 Kiwanis members, pitched in to make the event run smoothly, starting with setup Thursday and Friday. Preparations for 7 a.m. service Saturday started at 5:30-6 a.m.

Pancake flipping used to be the coveted job, Zabel said, but, “Now that we’ve grown to over 500 volunteers, they go wherever we have to put them.”

Awards for the Fargo Kiwanis Community Champion for Kids Organizational Award (The Village Family Service Center) and the Fargo Kiwanis Community Champion for Kids Individual Award (89-year-old Lloyd Paulson, a 45-year Pancake Karnival volunteer) were handed out at 11:30 a.m.

Pianists took hour-and-a-half shifts at the piano in the center of the room, filling the dome’s air with soft music.

Kids could work up their appetite for seconds on inflatable games provided by Games Galore or check out the Boy Scouts booths on display, though many of the kids on the grounds were volunteers.

Two of them, Roosevelt fifth-graders Emma Devine and Robin Alfaro, stood at an exit thanking the thousands of pancake-eaters for coming and contributing.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590