St. Patrick Catholic School celebrates 40-year bingo volunteers
JANESVILLE—Financial trouble almost caused the end of St. Patrick Catholic School in the 1970s.
The school was saved when a group of students' parents decided to start up weekly bingo games as a fundraiser. Since 1974, the games have been running every Saturday except the day before Easter.
In its four decades, volunteers have come and gone, but five people have been helping St. Patrick bingo since the beginning.
Jack and Carol Lathrop, Benjamin and Bernice Schwab, and Bill Brown have sacrificed two to three Saturday nights a month over the past 40 years to work at bingo.
The five volunteers each had children in the school when it began to suffer financially, but they're still helping out.
“We started because what was going to keep the programming was volunteers, and our children went there,” Carol said.
The Lathrops' daughter and St. Patrick alumna Mary Richards has preserved the legacy by volunteering for bingo for 30 years. The Lathrops even have great-grandchildren enrolled at the school now.
The volunteers used to work less, but now they have to help out more than when they started.
“Now we work quite often because there's not as many children as there were when our children went there,” Carol said.
Fewer children means fewer families to volunteer for the ever-growing bingo games.
“It's amazing that for 40 years we've had people doing this,” Richards said.
St. Patrick recently honored the five volunteers for their years of service.
“I felt honored that they recognized that I did so much for them,” Ben said.
The Schwabs felt obliged to help the school to keep their child enrolled there. Ben started as a floorwalker but now opens and sets up for the night on Saturday afternoons. He also sells pull-tabs.
“I felt it was my duty,” he said. “It just feels great that I'm still able to do what I do and help out.”
Carol sells game cards to the players and does small jobs throughout the night as needed.
“It's for a good cause, and they need help, and I'm glad to help out so it can continue on,” she said. “There's a lot of families that benefit from it.
“I enjoy it because I've met a lot of nice people down there. It's like a social night out there,” she said.
Before bingo, Brown began volunteering for St. Patrick as a painter, lending his brush to walls that needed touching up.
“It's a feeling of accomplishment,” he said. “You always think that it's doing some good because it makes a good impression on people and they pass it on, so that always helps.”
Brown's wife, Darlene, said bingo was almost immediately profitable for the school. The school checked out other local bingo games to learn the best way to run their own operation.
“We lost $3 on the first night then started making profit,” she said.
Darlene doesn't volunteer much anymore, but she cherishes the time she spent helping.
“We had a great group and have a lot of friendships because of it,” she said. “We still have those friends after all these years.”
People come from all over the area to St. Patrick bingo nights. Visitors from Kenosha, Whitewater, Milwaukee, Elkhorn and beyond have come to play, Richards said.
“We keep the prices for our food and game cards very reasonable and hope that people just keep coming back,” Richards said. “People think bingo is for little old ladies that you see on commercials, but you'll see young people and families come down and play.”