MADISON — People are invited to celebrate the arrival of spring at the annual St. James School Italian Dinner and Auction on Sunday, March 29, at the church and school, located two blocks southwest of Regent and Mills Sts. in Madison at 1128 St. James Ct. Festivities begin at 11 a.m. and continue until 5 p.m.
The all-you-can eat spaghetti dinner was started more than 50 years ago in honor of the Italians and Italian-Americans who joined St. James, the parish started by German immigrants after their church, St. Joseph, was torn down in favor of urban renewal. A historic mark notes the area which now houses medical facilities and office buildings.
Continuing the tradition
Emmett Schuchardt, life-long parishioner and former restaurant owner, started the Italian dinner and got Ted Maglio involved. At that time Maglio owned Lombardino’s, a well-known restaurant near the University of Wisconsin campus.
While still seen at parish events, Schuchardt has enabled others to take over the kitchen responsibilities. Among those making sure that high standards are maintained is school parent and parishioner Mike Theisen, who, along with his wife Dawn, owns Kennedy Manor restaurant on Langdon St.
“Now as the two parishes are in the midst of joining together as one faith community, already named for the Good Shepherd, this year’s dinner continues the tradition of warm hospitality with school families from a diversity of ethnic backgrounds all working together,” said Msgr. Thomas Baxter, pastor.
Noting that the school has been an integral part of the 100-plus year history of St. James, he said the school is considered a major asset of the merged parish as well.
More than 30 years ago, when Sharon Barry started as school secretary and her children attended the school, the school parents claimed the dinner for a school fundraiser. Those parents now have grandchildren in the school, but the school office is still staffed by the much-loved Mrs. Barry.
Chairing this year’s dinner is Joe Tiller, a former student and now school parent and husband of third grade teacher Laura Tiller, whose parents are also active volunteers.
A Madison fireman, Tiller can be seen around St. James on his days off and serves as home-school association co-president with LuEllen Childers, who is one of the newer parents at St. James. Her husband Michael serves on the parish merger committee. When they moved from Illinois to Madison five years ago with their three sons, they found St. James to be a welcoming community.
The school and parish attract a diversity of families from as far away as Belleville and New Glarus and as close as a few blocks away. While some parents selected the school because of its location near their workplace rather than where they live, they soon embraced the St. James School family and became active supporters and volunteers, said Sr. Kathleen Loughrin, school principal.
Julie Grosse and Melinda Connery co-chair the auction, which was incorporated into the spaghetti dinner about 10 years ago. Grosse’s children are the fourth generation from the Grosse family at the school. Her husband Jason attended as did his dad Rick, one of the parish trustees.
Sister-in-law, Emily Grosse (husband Adam), serves as secretary of the home and school association. Other family members, including mother-in-law Karen Grosse and grandmother-in-law Adeline Grosse, are active parishioners.
Asked why she volunteers, Julie’s answer is probably no different from most volunteers: “Because it is fun and it really helps out the school.”
Melinda Connery started volunteering at St. James School when her son started kindergarten six years ago. Soon after, she and her husband Dan and their two sons joined St. James. Melinda serves as home and school association treasurer and has spearheaded the fundraising committee, with the auction being a major activity.
Auction has grown
The auction has grown to include donations from local businesses as well as from the school families. In addition to the usual restaurant gift certificates and sports tickets, the auction features unique baskets of all sorts.
The live auction is at 1 p.m. with auctioneers Jon Grinde and John Swanson. Bidding for the silent auction begins at 11 a.m. and goes until 4:30 p.m. Silent auction items will be displayed in the school gym where up to 40 people at a time can play bingo for free. There will also be raffles, face painting, and music.
For a list of the items or to make arrangements to bid on items if you can’t be there that day, go to the St. James School Web site: www.stjamesschool.org