A flippin’ good time: Kiwanis pancakes a harbinger of spring

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 9, 2014

Hubba, hubba, hubba
Puffin’ up fluffy and sweet
Now wait
Now flip it!
— from Carly Simon’s “Hotcakes”
SALISBURY — Those of you who are sick and tired of winter, take heart.
The important college basketball tournaments are on the horizon. Daylight Savings Time kicks in this weekend.
And the Salisbury Kiwanis Club Pancake Festival — a March staple since 1957 — is coming this Friday and Saturday to the J.F. Hurley Family YMCA.
Scott Robinson describes Kiwanis pancakes as “the rite of passage from winter to spring.”
“You can’t have spring without the pancake festival,” fellow Kiwanian Bob Setzer adds.
Club member Ronnie Smith says it’s the social event of the year — a declaration hard to dispute.
Devouring more than 15,000 pancakes, a couple thousand people fill the gymnasium floor at the Y and, as the pancakes settle, they meet and talk with friends, old and new.
It’s as though people have emerged from winter hibernation, plus there’s always a sense of excitement in the air.
Maybe it’s March Madness. Maybe it’s all the politicians who show up for casual campaigning. Maybe it’s the friendliness of Kiwanians and just how plain ol’ Southern the gathering feels, down to the Cheerwine and Frank Corriher sausage.
There’s never a rush to leave, and you can always go back for more pancakes. Many folks who show up for pancakes Friday evening, come back again Saturday morning.
“It gives people the opportunity to sit down and talk,” says Jerry Lawson, this year’s chairman. “… The pancake festival is our gift to the community, in addition to a fundraiser.”
Through the years, certain things have given the Kiwanis Pancake Festival a feeling of visiting with a cherished relative. The late Wilson Smith, a Food Lion co-founder, created all the promotional signs still posted throughout the gymnasium.
They are handled with great care.
And from the beginning, the Kiwanis Club has always been filled with characters and well-known community leaders. These men automatically became associated with the pancake festival, when virtually everyone in the club dons an apron and fills a job — from pouring batter on the griddle to making coffee to bussing tables.
It’s still easy to picture the likes of Norman Ingle, Clarence Mayfield, Glenn Freeman, Wiley Lash, John Nettles, Ray Cooper, H.E. Brewer, Francis Cook, Earl Haynes and Charles Bouldin in the three different venues where the festival has taken place over 57 years.
The Pancake Festival started out at the City Park Rec Center, was held many years at Salisbury Civic Center and most recently has been at the Hurley Y.
Lawson says the partnership with the Y has been a great one. Kiwanians love the location at 828 Jake Alexander Blvd., its available parking and the roominess of the Y gymnasium.
They also believe their $5 tickets for pancakes, sausage and drinks represent one of the best values for charity giving. The ticket price is really a donation to Kiwanis Charities, whose focus has always been on youth.
Kiwanian Todd Hildebrand says the club helps kids from providing car seats for infants to sponsoring college scholarships for high school seniors — and all ages in between.
The club sponsors Key Clubs at Salisbury, North Rowan and East Rowan high schools, and those teens often help at the pancake festival.
Kiwanians also sponsor the Terrific Kids and BUG (Bring Up Grades) programs at Hanford Dole, Hurley and Isenberg elementary schools; a literacy project at two elementary schools; the Aktion Club at Rowan Vocational Opportunities; the Kiwanis Junior Tennis Tournament; Farm-City Week; a reading project at Patterson Farms; the Rowe McNeely Animal Science Award; and a Rowan Little League team.
In addition, club support goes to the Salvation Army, Special Olympics and the YMCA’s Invest in Youth program, and members provide the food booth for the United Way’s annual campaign kickoff and ushers for Piedmont Players productions at the Meroney Theater.
As supplies last this year at the pancake festival, children 5 and under will receive a free book. They also eat for free.
“Kiwanis is a global organization of volunteers dedicated to improving the world one child and one community at a time,” Lawson says.
Kiwanians claim they use a secret recipe for their pancake batter mix — the only thing more secret, Setzer claims, is the recipe for Cheerwine.
Ray Cooper came up with the batter recipe long ago.
The pancakes are cooked right in front of your eyes, and the griddle masters such as Smith will make the kids Mickey Mouse pancakes, if asked.
“You’ll never get a fresher pancake,” Robinson promises.
Organized in 1920, the Salisbury Kiwanis Club is one of the oldest civic clubs in the county, state and nation.
Former Salisbury Mayor Bill Stanback has been a member since 1950 and has worked at almost every pancake festival.
Smith calls Stanback “the key man for cleanup” — the last Kiwanian to leave when the festival is over. If any extra food ingredients are left, Stanback also likes to deliver those goods to Rowan Helping Ministries.
The Pancake Festival always seems to be happening around men’s college basketball and the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament or the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Kiwanians seem to put in as much effort as all those players on the court. It’s a tiring time for club members, and it can take several washings for the smell of pancakes to leave their clothing.
But they enjoy it, while anticipating that winter-to-spring transition with everyone else.
“To borrow Jim Nantz,” Setzer says, “it’s a tradition like no other.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@salisburypost.com.