The legacy of a doughnut: Members of Tri Kappa discuss the history of their doughnut booth at the 4-H fair

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Keely Butrum of Tri-Kappa makes a fresh batch of doughnuts in the booth at the Hancock County 4-H Fair.

Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

By Elissa Maudlin

HANCOCK COUNTY In the state of Indiana, there is a women’s philanthropic organization called Tri Kappa. With around 80 members, the group donates money to different aspects of the community within the spheres of charity, culture and education.

However, Glenna Shelby, previous president and current member of Tri Kappa, said when some people hear the words Tri Kappa, they think of doughnuts.

Since July 1980, Tri Kappa has sold doughnuts at the Hancock County 4-H Fair as one of their biggest fundraisers, running from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and requiring 25 to 30 workers per day, Vicki Emmons, 2022 co-chairman for the doughnut booth, said.

“They’re so happy to get the doughnuts. I still don’t understand why, but they love them …” she said. “They’ll go ‘Oh, the only reason I came to [the] fair is for the doughnuts,’ and you’re like, ‘Really?’”

Last year, the group raised $10,000 and sold out of their mix. However, they haven’t always made that amount of money. In 1980, the group was proud of the $500 they made the first year.

“We thought we had just died and went to heaven, we were just so proud of ourselves for that,” MaryAnne Siurek, previous co-chair, said. She was Shelby’s best friend and loved a challenge.

The idea for the doughnut booth fundraiser came when one of the members of Tri Kappa came to Shelby, the president at the time, and mentioned that another women’s philanthropic group who sold cookies would not be coming back to the fair the following year. With a slot open, Tri Kappa took hold of the opportunity. Instead of selling cookies, since Shelby said they didn’t want to replicate and take the past organization’s idea, they decided on doughnuts.

Shelby found a company that sold the group the resources they needed, including a doughnut machine where whoever was making the doughnut dropped each clump of dough into the grease, chose when to flip it with chopsticks and when to take it out.

This created a competition for the workers of who could make the most doughnut at one time and, with the old machine, Shelby remembers her having the record.

With the new machine, Shelby said you drop the dough into the fryer and set the timer for when to flip, and the machine will flip the dough for you. It also travels on a conveyor belt and is taken out of the fryer by the machine.

Despite the newer machine never breaking before, the idea of it still makes Emmons “hold [her] breath.”

When Shelby was president and Siurek was co-chairman, the doughnut booth was located in a tent on the fairgrounds near a storm drain.

“We ha[ve] been through wind storms and rain coming sideways at times, electric everywhere, and we [were] still making doughnut,” Siurek said.

Emmons said, in the past, the workers would use a hose for water and would heat the water on a hot pad in a kettle. When they moved inside the food pavilion, she said it was “a luxury,” and the access to hot and cold running water was “a big bonus.”

The pavilion also provided an even floor and workers today stand in the pavilion on donated carpet squares of different colors and textures, taped together to form carpeted flooring.

Along with Emmons, Ann Ott and Diana Palmer are also co-chairmans of the doughnut booth this year, and the team of three has co-chaired the fundraiser before. Palmer said the first year they took over, they “had no idea what [they] were doing.”

“We were so afraid we’d do something wrong,” Emmons said. “It’s the largest project so it has to be successful.”

However, since the first year, the three of them said the process has gotten more simple and Siurek referred to it as more “streamlined.”

The women in Tri Kappa are asked to work two shifts at the doughnut booth per year and each shift is four hours. Despite not being president and co-chair anymore, Shelby and Siurek both still work the donut booth and said they work the booth every year unless they have a conflict.

When asked why, Siurek had a simple answer: “It’s Tri Kappa.”

“There is just such a bond of sisterhood and service, and we’re giving back to a community that we love,” Siurek said. “… I betcha if you ask any Tri Kappa, that would be their comment. ‘Because it’s Tri Kappa.’ You’re proud to be a Tri Kappa.”

Shelby, Siurek and Ott said working the doughnut booth has brought them closer to women in the group that they didn’t know as well before. When Siurek was co-chairman with another woman named Nancy Holdrup, they were not originally friends, but Holdrup has become a dear friend to Siurek since the doughnut booth.

“We get to end up working with a lot of the ladies [who] we only know their name. We don’t really know a lot of them because, you know, they can be 15-20 years younger than I am, and I don’t meet them in the community in a different way,” Ott said, “… but I get to know them by [working] with them for six hours, you get to know a lot.”

One reason Siurek works the doughnut booth is because of the interactions she gets to have with attendees buying doughnut who she doesn’t see in everyday life. As a previous teacher at Greenfield-Central High School, where she taught for eight to 10 years, she sees previous students who recognize her and haven’t seen her since graduation.

The biggest motivation for Emmons to work the doughnut is the contribution she gets to make to the community. When she worked on the scholarship committee, where Tri Kappa gives money to kids who need it, she was motivated by “helping other people in the community with just a little bit, that we can do.”

The Greenfield Upsilon chapter of Tri Kappa donates $20,000-25,000 annually to local and state charities/philanthropic organizations, including the Boys and Girls Club, Senior Services, Hancock County Arts Council and the Talitha Koum Recovery House, among others. They also give four local scholarships.

“It sticks with you whenever you can help people like that,” Palmer said.