Editor's note: Due to coronavirus concerns, the Barten family has canceled this year's fundraising breakfast scheduled for March 22. To find out how to support this year's recipient online, visit their Facebook page.
When life gives you lemons, says the cliché, make lemonade. But when life gives you something far more tragic … make pancakes.
Lots and lots of pancakes.
At the New Prague Knights of Columbus Hall on March 22, there will be lots and lots of pancakes at a breakfast to honor the memory of Roman Barten, a bricklayer, farmer and father of 11 who died in 2006.
The gathering will also help a young lad named Gage secure a brighter future. It’s not the first such festival of carbs and philanthropy.
“It’s almost 14 years ago my husband passed away,” said Fran Barten, matriarch of the clan. “That summer we were at a relative’s house and a cousin from Michigan was there, maybe 2 years old, physically and mentally [challenged]. Little Simon. Shortly after that, we were sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves about Roman, and I remember what my mother said: ‘When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, go do something for someone else.’ ”
“We got to talking. We could do something in Roman’s memory. As our kids grew up, they [had] helped at the Knights of Columbus Hall pancake breakfast so that was something we were familiar with doing and we thought — let’s raise money for little Simon.”
Flyers went up, pancake-breakfast veterans stepped up. Good thing they had a big family because it takes a lot of hands to pour, flip, stack and serve.
“It was successful beyond expectations,” Barten said. Money was raised for Simon but the family knew there would always be a need.
“Next year, as we approached winter, we thought, well, who’s it going to be this year?” Barten said. “We prayed that God would send us someone who needed prayers and financial help and God did.”
That’s been the story every year, she said. “I’ll get a phone call. I might know them, I might not.”
That generosity leads to bonds that last years.
“Oh, my gosh, the families come back and volunteer, the parents get to know one another, they help in the dining room. It’s becoming almost a reunion.”
How many show up? How many gallons of batter?
“The numbers are so much fun!” Barten said with a laugh. ”The largest we got was 1,350 guests. A hundred bottles of syrup. Pancakes — three a person, we can put out 600 pancakes an hour, 800 an hour. That’s with four people flipping. They have it worked out like a science.”
So there’s the merry chaos of the kitchen, the din of conversation and silverware, the perfumes of syrup and coffee — all to help a child. But also to remember the man whose example informed the spirits of his children and who gather in his memory.
“He trusted God through his entire life,” his widow said. “I’m sure it wasn’t easy; he was a bricklayer and farmer by night — corn and soybeans, and a pumpkin patch. He was only 64, still chasing the grandkids around the yard.”
How many grandkids?
“There were 12,” she said. “There are 34 now.”
“The kids and their families, they’re amazing — the word is used so much, but the kids are amazing. They push forward, they’re smiling and happy — there was miracle girl a few years ago, the doctors said she had no chance, but the parents let her be born and she survived. When she was 2, her dad made her a PVC pipe to help her walk and now she’s running around the yard.”
Roman would have chased her, no doubt.
Who’s to say he doesn’t, and that’s why the little girl laughs?
For more information, visit facebook.com/romanbartenbreakfast