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Twin City tradition of Pancake Day is back!

A white poster with blue text reads "Day of Pancakes" with a short stack sliced and ready to eat.
Kiwanis Club of Bloomington
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In 2012, John Kirk documented the history of Pancake Days. Kirk, a former Illinois State University theater professor and pancake visionary, helped usher in a new age for the Bloomington Kiwanis Pancake Days.

The 2023 Day of Pancakes takes place from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25 at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts. Sadly, it is a single day of buttermilk banqueting this year, with Pancake Days making a slow comeback after the pandemic.

Since 1951, Kiwanis has held a weekend of all-you-can-eat pancake feasting, the proceeds of which send kids to summer camp. The all-you-can-eat part is made easier by custom-made pancake machines suggested by Kirk. Fellow Kiwanian Earl Ewald, an engineer for the Eureka Company, improved on the rental machines Kiwanis used in the 1960s.

In Kirk’s words, it was two key Kiwanians — Bill Meara and Harold Walters — who would have to sign off on the project. They were “the grand old men of the club in those years,” he wrote.

Three people attend to a circular pancake griddle
Bloomington Kiwanis
Bloomington Kiwanis petitioned for custom-made pancake griddles about 20-years into the annual Pancake Days fundraiser. The machines allow them to serve thousands of pancakes in a single weekend.

The memoir — that is, historical archive — continued:

“After I finished my presentation,” Kirk wrote, “there was an awkward silence for several seconds. And then Bill Meara boomed out, 'That's the best damn proposal I've ever seen!' After that it was smooth sailing, and the project went forward.”

And the rest, as they say, is history, with five amazing, custom-built pancake-churning griddles in tow.

Past president Mark Wylie has been a Kiwanis member for about two decades.

“We’re hoping to have over 900 people attend this year,” he said. “In the past, we would have closer to 1,800 to 2,000, so we just divided by two and hope we get people out.”

The pancakes are not entirely the point. The Kiwanis host the event to raise money for a good cause: sending kids to Camp Limberlost. The club also donates to organizations such as the Baby Fold to benefit kids who may already have been to camp on a scholarship.

“Our goal is always to send 60-100 people to camp without them having to pay anything,” Wylie said.

Numerous studies have shown the psychological and physiological benefits kids get from sleep-away camp, including a boost to self-confidence, independence and psycho-social skills.

Numerous studies also show that camps are overwhelmingly white.

According to a 2020 report by KOA, North America’s largest system of campground franchises, 63% of campers were white. The pandemic made a positive impact on diversity in the outdoors; KOA states 60% of first-time campers in 2020 were non-white.

Wylie said Camp Limberlost defies the statistics.

“Nationwide, about 4% of third through fifth graders who go to camp are non-white,” he said. “At our Camp Limberlost, the statistic is 46% Black and 66% non-white. The students come from both District 87 and Unit 5 and are nominated by their teachers. A lot of these kids would not get another chance to go to camp.”

The Kiwanis Day of Pancakes is Saturday, Feb. 24 at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, 600 N. East St., Bloomington. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door for sausage, milk, juice, coffee and unlimited pancakes. Kids under 12 eat free. BloomingtonKiwanis.org.

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.