At 4 p.m. on Friday, the last of the freshly made bierocks were coming out of the ovens at Thomas More Prep-Marian High School. A handful of volunteers in assembly-line fashion were counting out the brown buns filled with meat, six to a tray, one tray to a bag, sealed with a twist tie.
Just as fast, customers were streaming in the door of the school cafeteria, picking up pre-orders and making their payment, $35 a dozen.
From one table, some lucky people on the waiting list were getting calls from Mary Lang, TMP alumni office manager and a Marian High School graduate in 1977, to let them know there was enough left over to fill their order.
“We cut off the orders every year at 350 dozen,” said Lang, “after that, everyone goes on the waiting list. It’s first-come, first serve.”
This year, when it was all said and done, 408 dozen came out of the ovens. That’s 4,896 bierocks, said Lang.
Sandy Losey, advancement assistant, organizes the volunteers and the annual fundraising event, as well as buys all the supplies. It takes about 70 people, said Losey, who graduated in 1982, the first year the boy and girl schools were consolidated. Proceeds from the sale raise money for the school’s transportation department.
“We have dedicated parents that know that’s how we can do what we do here,” Losey said of the volunteers. “And it’s not just parents, some are alumni who want to help.”
“I need 12 dozen,” said Losey to one of her helpers, filling an order for a customer. Orders of that size are not unusual at all.
“I have some older couples, they buy enough to last them a year and put them in their freezer,” Losey said.
One customer paid for her dozen with two 20-dollar bills, then added, “no, I don’t need any change.”
The bierocks sale has been going for more than two decades, said Lang, a 1977 Marian High School graduate.
“I’m in my 24th year here and they were having it before I came, so it’s over 24 years,” said Lang.
Sandy Werth, Hays, has a son who is a senior at TMP, and she was volunteering on Friday.
“I’ve helped in other years as well,” Werth said. “This was my first year packaging. I’ve found out that I’m better at this, it’s less messy and I’m not very good with dough. It’s too sticky, I get too much flour, and I’m not good at folding. I’m better at this methodical work.”
Claire Schippers is a sixth-grader at Holy Family Elementary School.
“I came in to help make the bierocks,” said Schippers, who also was zipping through order sheets and checking out customers. “I’ve done it once before.”
Her mom, Geralyn Schippers, said she’s had two daughters graduate from TMP, and now has a seventh-grader at the school.
“I came in at 11 and made bierocks,” she said.
Diane and Pat Kuhn, Ellis, were helping package. Their daughter, Anna, is a junior.
“This is probably our sixth year doing this,” said Diane, while Pat noted that his hired hand had said the farm would do just fine without him Friday.
Lynn Dowling, Hays, was buying four dozen.
“We get to have all of our children home for Christmas. We’ll pull them out of the freezer and I’ll make soups to go with them,” said Dowling.
Her five kids attended the school from 1995 until 2008.
“We love this school,” she said. “We wouldn’t have had them anywhere else. It gave them a great foundation.”
Losey, in her 25th year at the school, said people keep asking the school to bake more of the popular bierocks, which always sell out. People have even asked if the school could ship orders out of state, which it doesn’t.
“We’re at our max,” said Losey. “We would never be able to get them out and done.”
The meat and the cabbage are cooked the Wednesday before, said Lang.
“It’s hard to take over the kitchen, we can’t find that many days when we can do it,” she said.
Volunteers started at 5 a.m. Friday making the dough, with the first shift of dough rollers starting at 6.
“They finished rolling at 1, and finished baking at 2,” Lang said. Her husband, Duane, was a volunteer too. “It’s a family affair. He was here at 6. He was one of our dough rollers.”
The recipe hasn’t changed much over the years, just a tweak here and there, she said.
“They added more salt and pepper this year,” Lang said, noting the volunteer cooks reduced it in years past to accommodate low-sodium diets and those who don’t care for spice. “This year, the guys decided they were going to put a little bit more in.”
As a few volunteers finished up the last of the packaging on Friday, most of the orders had been picked up.
“In all honesty, it doesn’t seem to be work at all,” said Werth. “You meet people and talk, and before you know it, four hours have gone by. It’s a satisfying thing to do.”