It was a hit 44 years ago and by all indications, the 45th Annual Rimbey Lions Club Pancake Day promises to be yet another success story.
The annual event has raised many thousands of dollars over the years for worthwhile local charities and projects and at the heart of the event – both then and now, is Michael Jarmoluk, chairman of the very first pancake breakfast who continues in that role.
“The idea came to me when I went to a pancake breakfast in 1963 in Lacombe and I thought it would be a good idea,” he said. “I brought the idea to our Lions Club and I thought it would be a good money-raising project and they approved the idea.”
Luckily for patrons of the pancake breakfast and many others in the community who have benefited from their efforts, one of the members of the Rimbey Lions Club at the time was Bill Rube who also happened to own the Grand Hotel.
From there, everything fell into place.
“He was very generous to give us his restaurant facility for one day, free of charge, for the event. So that’s where it began,” Jarmoluk said. “We were all very enthusiastic about it and to add something to it, we felt entertainment would be very appropriate for the project.”
At the time, Lions Clubs were an all-male domain and in an effort to increase the size of the crowds and add a little enjoyment to the event, they decided to dress themselves up in various women’s costumes such as waitresses and cooks.
It didn’t take very long after for members of the local club to ramp it up a bit and within a few years the entertainment had taken on a much more famous theme with members dressing as musical stars of the day including Canadian legend Stompin’ Tom Connors, Don Ho, Bobby Vinton and Sonny and Cher, to name a few.
“Because of the entertainment, the pancake breakfast became very successful,” Jarmoluk said. “After that, it was held every year on one Sunday in March. So on one Sunday in March of 1963, we held our first pancake breakfast at the Grand Hotel.”
In the beginning, Jarmoluk said the Lions were served pancakes from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. feeding up to 700 customers in just 12 hours. He added that at times, patrons lined the sidewalk leading to the hotel with the line going down the block and around a corner and drew support from the entire central Alberta area.
After 15 years at the Grand Hotel, the Lions Club moved the annual event to the old Community Hall for the next 10 years before re-locating to their new home at the Community Centre where their breakfasts have been held ever since.
Over the years Lions Clubs have become a bit more enlightened and began admitting women in the late 1980s. Because of that, Jarmoluk said the local club attracted a lot of new members and it also, for obvious reasons, added much to the entertainment portion of the day.
Although the size of the crowds have dipped a bit lately, Jarmoluk said they still attract several hundred patrons each year and although it’s not their biggest annual fundraising event, it’s still returns a significant amount of funds back into the community through their many projects.
“At that time it was our biggest. Now we have other functions like bingos, casino nights and so on, but it was one of our biggest events of the year,” he said. “We used to raise, even in those days, over $2,000. It used to be big money and it all went back to the community. Because we aren’t serving for such long hours, maybe people have other things to do. But we still serve approximately 400 to 450 people.”
This year’s pancake breakfast will open at 9 a.m. and the Lions will be serving up the delicious cakes until 2 p.m. Also on the menu will be sausages, bacon, coffee and all the fixings.
Jarmoluk and his fellow Lions Club members would like to see another large turnout for the event and they promise a tasty breakfast, plenty of laughs and the knowledge that by supporting the Lions, patrons are supporting each other, including the less-fortunate.
“Actually, the club exists to support the community and people are generally very supportive of the club,” he said. “We do lots of worthwhile things. Some of our members have worked hard to make this a success and we’ve promoted it well, so we hope the public comes out and enjoys a good meal and some good fellowship.”