Lifestyle

Fiftieth salmon bake at St. John Vianney raises money, feeds hundreds

Jim Neal, Neil Dufort, Joe Neal and Bob Lande Jr. show off salmon they caught for a St. John Vianney salmon bake in the 1970s. - Courtesy photo
Jim Neal, Neil Dufort, Joe Neal and Bob Lande Jr. show off salmon they caught for a St. John Vianney salmon bake in the 1970s.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Half a century ago, men from St. John Vianney Catholic Church, then

named St. Patrick’s, headed out on the Sound each July and caught hundreds of salmon to feed the community in an

annual picnic at Dockton Park.

Though the picnic is now held on the church grounds and the fish comes from a supplier, most traditions surrounding the church’s annual salmon bake — from the live music to the secret marinade — remain the same for its 50th anniversary this Sunday.

“I call it the best meal in town for a salmon dinner,” said Jim Walker, who organizes the event. “It’s only $15 for a multi-course meal and entertainment.”

Though the proceeds go to support St. John Vianney, Walker said the event is less about raising funds and more about bringing the community together around good food, emphasizing that non-church members are encouraged to attend.

“It’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of people to make it happen,” he said. “We don’t make a lot of money. ... It really is more of a social summertime event.”

At least 60 people are now involved in pulling off the salmon bake, which usually draws a crowd of 300 to 400 people from the church as well as the community, Walker said.

One of the most critical people to the event is Bruce Johns, who heads up the food preparation. In the days leading up to the event, Johns takes time off work to pick up more than 300 pounds of salmon from the SeaTac airport, flown in fresh from Alaska. Then he and a group of parishioners begin the arduous task of marinading the fish using a secret recipe that is known to please attendees year after year.

“We marinade it for a very long time,” Johns said. “We wrap it in foil and put it in cold storage at the church. Then we cook it over an open-pit type fire.”

Cooking enough beans to feed hundreds is also a task in itself, Johns said. Just like the salmon marinade, the recipe used for the baked beans is the same one used at the very first bake in 1960.

Bob Lande, who has been involved in the event almost from the beginning, remembers hearing about the year that Bernie Coanne, who helped found the event, decided to cook the hundreds of gallons of beans at the Vashon Sportsmen’s Club.

Lande said that as Coanne used a paddle to stir the giant vat of beans, he accidently hit the light fixture above him, sending shards of glass into the beans.

“He had to start over again, but he didn’t have much time to start over,” Lande said, laughing.

The beans are still a hit each year, along with the garlic bread, salad and coleslaw that is served. Hot dogs are provided for those who wish to pass on the salmon, and the meal is always finished off with ice cream.

The local band Loose Change will play at this year’s salmon bake, harkening back to the early years of the event, when the priest invited popular local bands such as the Jalepenos to play, drawing crowds of up to 600 people.

A clown will also be on hand Sunday to entertain children, and rummage and bake sales will be held during the event, providing plenty for attendees to do while they wait for fish fresh off the grill.

Paul Wallrof, who helped organize the bake for over 40 years, still looks forward to the summer tradition. He is pleased that after a rainier than normal summer so far, Sunday’s forecast looks promising. “When they were holding it at Dockton Park, it rained. It has only rained one more time since then,” he said.

Rain or shine, Wallrof will be there, and so will the salmon. “It’s a great social event; it’s for all the Island,” he said, “It just gets better and better, more fun, more fun.”

Attend the salmon bake

The salmon bake will be held from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, July 25, on the church grounds; doors open at 1:15 p.m. The cost is $15 for adults, $3 for children and free for those under 5. Tickets are available after masses at St. John Vianney, at the church office Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon and at Windermere Realty and Vashon Pharmacy.

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