Family, fun, food spelled success at The Big Smoke

While the proceeds aren’t as great as in previous years of The Big Smoke benefit for seminarians and others seeking a religious vocation, it was an “outstanding success,” said Mike Ruelle, president of the Serra Club of North Central North Dakota that sponsors it. Members of the Minot Knights of Columbus, longtime supporters of seminarians, provided major assistance at the event.

“Everyone there was having a great time, and that’s what we want,” he said of the June 28 benefit at the Flickertail Gardens on the North Dakota State Fairgrounds in Minot. “We had a lot more children and that’s one of the things we were striving for. We characterize this as a family friendly event, and we scored a big hit with that.”

Preliminary figures indicate a profit of $4,400, he said. Close to three hundred people attended the meat smoking competition. Nine teams participated.

Ruelle spoke of factors that he feels bode well for the future and will have a positive effect in years ahead. The location was a switch from the three previous Big Smoke celebrations-a feature Ruelle believes affected attendance figures. “It was a new venue, and continuing concerns about the Covid-19 pandemic still linger. We have some kinks to iron out, but we will back there next year-no doubt about it.”

The setting was an ideal combination of sun and shade on a day that allowed ample space for all the activity, Ruelle said. “It all felt like a great slice of Americana. Children could romp in the grass. Competitors had more room to operate their smokers. So did the adult patrons as they circulated in the heady aroma while sampling each smoker’s offering and voted their choice for the best chunk of smoked meat.” Brisket was the meat selected for the competition. Spare ribs and pulled pork were served for the meal that was part of the event.

He expressed gratitude to the North Dakota State Fair Association for making it possible to stage The Big Smoke at that location. It cost the Serra Club $800 for rental of the facility. At previous competitions set up on the grounds of St. John the Apostle Catholic Church, it was necessary to rent a tent. That cost the club $1,200.

The competing teams and their members:

– St. Thomas Smokers, Father Corey Nelson, pastor of St. Thomas Catholic Church, Tioga, Luke and Joseph Richter.

– The Spiritual Engineers, Rev. David Richter, pastor of St. John the Apostle Catholic Church, Minot, and Lance Meyer.

– St. Jerome’s Smokers, Rev. Adam Maus, pastor of St. Jerome’s Catholic Church, Mohall, Brian and Kristie Michels, Mohall, and their sons, Alan, Matthew, and Luke.

– The Burning Bush Barbecue Team, Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church, Minot, Cody Eisenbraun, Mike Nilson, Joe Buch, and Jeff Schmidt.

– Smoking With Faith, Faith United Methodist Church, Minot, Chris Rehder.

– St. Leo the Great Catholic Church, Minot, Brew Team: Ed Steckler, Kevin Sebastian, and Mike Vetter.

– Holy Smokers, Our Lady of Grace and Little Flower Catholic churches, Perry and Jake Erdmann.

– Non-Smokers, Tom Magnuson and Dave Aleshire, Little Flower Catholic Church, Minot.

– Team Little Flower, Father Kenneth Phillips, pastor of Little Flower Catholic Church, Bob Artz, Kirk Bahle and Paul Phillips.

Serving as judges for the winning entries were Susan Willson, Bruce Kramer and Shane Feland, all of Minot.

Team Little Flower was declared first place winner in the brisket competition, and was awarded a $250 cash prize. Runner-up for a $150 cash prize was the Holy Smokers team.

The Burning Bush Barbecue Team won the first prize of $200 for the winning barbecue sauce entry-the first year for that category. The $100 second prize went to Daniel and Shanley Jung.

First prize for the People’s Choice Award went to Father Maus and his team for a $250 cash award. The Non-Smokers was the runner-up team for that award.

The door prize – an outdoor patio set donated by I. Keating Furniture World of Minot – was won by Alane and Joe Ferrara of Minot.

Close to 20 seminarians were in attendance at the event. Rev. Jordan Dosch, director of vocations for the Bismarck Diocese, introduced them as the evening drew to a close. He noted it is expensive to educate a man for the priesthood, costing about $40,000 a year.

“But the beautiful thing about our diocese is that it is so easy to get acquainted with priests and to learn that they are normal people. Until I got to know priests on a personal level and saw that they were regular people like anyone else, I thought that somehow they were of a different type of guy. I found out otherwise and became one of them.” He thanked the crowd for their support and expressed the hope that they would continue that in years to come.

Father Maus, who is the club’s chaplain, expressed the priests’ gratitude for sponsoring the event and urged those present to “pass the word along” about The Big Smoke. “We need to keep praying for vocations. This was a good evening and a good time. Let’s get more people coming.”


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