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Sugar Bush Festival returns in Chatham Township

The Chatham Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6892 Sugar Bush Festival, a long-standing tradition in the township, is back.

The all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast is every weekend in March at Post 6892 at 6299 Avon Lake Road. It will be noon to 6 p.m. today and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

But this is expected to be the final year the VFW will sponsor the event. It is handing off the fundraiser to the Chatham Firemen’s Association.

“There are only five members left (who go to meetings),” Chatham VFW Post Commander Norm Bistline said Friday. “They are getting old and tired. It’s time to get some young blood in there.”

Bistline, 72, said there are other VFW members still living, but they don’t attend meetings.

With its wheat pancakes and sausage, the event is a major fundraiser for Chatham.

Bistline declined to say how much money is raised at the request of the Medina County Sheriff’s Office.

He said proceeds go to youth baseball in Chatham, the Chatham Historical Society, the Medina County Home, the Chatham Fire Department, Black River Church of the Brethren in Spencer and Chatham Community Church, among other organizations.

Continuing the tradition

“It started 55 years ago,” said Arlene Grim of the women’s auxiliary. “I’ve been there since Day 1 … Bob and Loretta Arters and myself. We are the only three who have seen it go the whole way.”

The event used to be sponsored by the former Packard’s General Store, which made maple syrup during the Sugar Bush.

“Community farmers would help with the sap collection,” Chatham Township Trustee Rick Dumperth said. “(The Sugar Bush was a way to) feed the help. It was free labor.”

When the VFW took over, it continued the tradition.

“We used to boil and make maple syrup right there at the VFW,” Grim said. “Now we get most of the syrup from the Amish.”

The wheat is produced in Chatham.

“I run the mill that grinds the wheat,” Bistline said. “The mill was founded in 1833. It’s on Old Mill Road. The road is named after the mill.”

Bistline’s father bought the mill from its former operator, Clem Rice, in the mid-1960s.

“The wheat is ground on mill stones, the way it was done in the old days,” Bistline said.

Bistline said the pancake breakfast averages about 800 people per day.

“We want to serve 150 people at a time,” he said. “There is a 45-minute turnaround. People should dress appropriately. We can’t keep the cold off you.”

He said it’s popular because of the “spirit of the whole thing.”

Grim, whose husband was in the Korean War, said the Sugar Bush draws a lot of out-of-towners.

“I think they come to see the countryside,” she said.

Cost is $8 for adults, $7.50 for seniors and $5 for children.

Contact reporter Bob Finnan at (330) 721-4049 or rfinnan@medina-gazette.com.

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