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Local churches raise cash slinging steaks, pie and parking at Rock County 4-H Fair


Tutti Frutti.

It’s a multi-fruit pie that First Lutheran Church volunteers bake and sell, one slice at a time, every year at the church’s food stand at the Rock County 4-H Fair.

Tutti Frutti is one of a half-dozen varieties of pie the church sells at the fair for $3 a slice, and it’s fabled to have been born years back when a volunteer baker for the church swept a pile of mixed berries, apples and cherries into one pie crust. The mixture proved wildly popular with fairgoers, and the pie has returned annually since, said Barbara Clem, a volunteer cash register operator at the church’s stand.

“We’ve got a lot of people who stop by every year for the pie. Other stuff too, but a lot who come back for the pie year after year,” Clem said.

Sometimes, the church sells 20 or more pies a day, slice by Tutti Frutti slice.

So it goes at the county fair for the handful of nonprofit food vendors—mostly churches and local organizations—that ply hungry fairgoers with foods that have become staples over the years.

As enterprises, the organizations use food and other vending, such as parking, to bolster fundraising. Some of the vending operations are lucrative.

First, the fair itself gets about a quarter cut of the revenue from some vendors. Then there’s the nonprofits’ overhead costs, including food and equipment. After that, the vendor—in this case First Lutheran—gets the rest of the proceeds.

At the church’s food stand, the pie is a big attraction, along with its walking tacos and beef brisket.

But to the east, on the other side of the fairground’s grandstand, is the St. John Vianney food stand. It’s known for signature ribeye steak sandwiches that are cooked on the spot and come dripping with grilled onions, if that’s your preference.

Anthony Wahl 

Shawn Spingler places a steak onto a grill while volunteering Thursday at St. John Vianney’s food tent during the Rock County 4-H Fair in Janesville.

“The steak’s too big for a regular hamburger bun, so we give you a bigger bun. Plus, it’s local beef,” parish volunteer Sharon Terry said, unveiling a fair-time sales pitch she has likely used to try to lure hundreds of fairgoers to buy the $10 beefsteak sandwich.

One afternoon this fair week, the parish sold 78 steak sandwiches, “most of them with onions,” Terry said.

The parish’s stand looks like an elaborate military field kitchen. It’s staffed at any given time by almost a dozen servers and cash register operators, plus cooks.

For 21 years, the parish has paid a premium to be located next to the fair grandstands.

At times, the more popular music acts at the fair have brought overflow crowds. People sometimes pack into the covered seating area at the St. John Vianney stand. For those who want to sit and watch a concert, the parish has a rule: You must order something to eat or drink.

Terry tapped her temple with her finger.

“We’re smart,” she said.

A place to park

Also smart: The way First Lutheran Church taps into the parking needs of the 10,000 to 12,000 people a day who visit the fair.

The fairgrounds itself has no on-site parking, and it’s no secret to anyone who has visited the fair over the last five decades that First Lutheran Church across the street capitalizes on that parking shortage.

You don’t have 320 parking spots, plus several acres of grassy lots on a property right across the street from the fairgrounds, and not capitalize on it.

The church’s youth minister, Eric Engen, is in charge of the volunteers running the $6 parking lot during the fair. He said he has seen the lot absolutely full during the fair—including grass overflow areas around the church.

Engen wouldn’t give an estimate of how much money the church raises through fair parking, but he said a significant portion of the proceeds goes toward the church’s youth programs—including humanitarian trips like one last year to the impoverished coal belt town of Clendenin, West Virginia.

Members of that group helped replace a resident’s tin roof, among other humanitarian activities. The church’s parking lot revenue from fair week covered the cost of the trip, Engen said.

New fare

Back inside the fairgrounds, St. John Vianney has unveiled a new treat: “Piggy Mac”—a decadent blend of pulled pork barbecue mixed in with good, old Wisconsin mac and cheese.

Parish volunteer Ron Smithrud said he dreamed up the $4.50 item this year after he noticed a few downtown Janesville restaurants loading pulled pork onto just about anything.

At the First Lutheran food stand, there’s a competing meat treat Clem calls “Lutheran BBQ.”

What ingredient puts the “Lutheran” in the BBQ?

Her lips pursed tight as the bolts on a carnival Tilt-A-Whirl, Clem rebuffed that question. She has the recipe herself, but it’s a trade secret she refused to unveil.

“Nope,” Clem said. “Can’t say.”

For full fair coverage, including a daily schedule, go to

Anthony Wahl 

Janet Miller brings trays of curly fries to the window while volunteering Thursday at St. John Vianney’s food tent during the Rock County 4-H Fair in Janesville.

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Conquering cancer: Summer institute gives students a chance to research


Janesville’s next generation of epidemiologists, cancer researchers, oncologists and doctoral candidates in microbiology got a head start on their peers for six weeks this summer.

On Thursday, the second to last day of the Janesville Summer Research Institute, a group of high school students toured the McArdle Cancer Research Labs at the Carbone Cancer Center in Madison. There they learned some of the practical applications of the work they had been doing during the summer.

The research institute, which was the first of its kind for the Janesville School District, was developed by Parker High School teacher Zach Pratt, who started his career in teaching at the college level and did his doctoral work in cancer biology and his postdoctoral work in microbiology.

This summer’s course was funded by a $6,000 grant from the Carbone Cancer Center, and helped pay for materials, supplies and transportation for Thursday’s trip. The money also will help pay for next year’s research institute, Pratt said.

“The only stipulation was that (the course) had to have something to do with cancer research or cancer education,” Pratt said.

The course looked at the ways viruses infect bacteria, the mechanics of the process, where and how it happens and how bacteria mutate to adapt to the viruses and continue to grow.

Here’s how it worked in the lab.

Students used bacterial viruses, called bacteriophages, or phages, for short. Then they exposed the phages to a lab strain of e coli. Within 24 hours, the e coli had developed a resistance to the virus and was continuing to grow.

Then, students sampled the resistant e coli and the original strain and sequenced the DNA of both.

Each DNA sequence consisted of thousand of A, C, G, and Ts, representing the four parts of a DNA strand: adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine.

A computer program allowed them to see the tiny differences in sequencing between the original and the mutated forms.

That tiny difference, say an A where a C should be, could be a potential way to interrupt the spread of e coli.

How does that relate to cancer cells?

“The mechanisms that are driving cancer growth are some of the mechanism that allow the e coli to resist the phages,” Pratt explained.

Researchers are considering what mutations help cancer cells growth faster; they’ve also looked at ways to interrupt that growth.

It’s complicated stuff, but the students understood it, both in terms of cancer research and other issues such as antibiotic-resistant infections.

That’s a subject that interests Madelynn Punzel, 16.

In an interview before the trip to McArdle, Punzel said she was interested in becoming an epidemiologist.

“It’s the study of infectious diseases and how they affect the world,” Punzel said.

Tracking disease and interrupting its spread happens both in the lab and in the community, she said. The need for new solutions is becoming increasingly urgent, Punzel added.

As students wrapped up their work before the trip, they talked about what they learned and the impact of the class on their understanding of science.

Students talked easily of protein receptors, the history of phage therapy, “bouncing around mutations to find something that would work” and EGFR, which is a protein involved in renal function.

Another, perhaps unexpected, outcome of the summer’s work was to transform an ordinary biology teacher into a science hero, worthy of emulation.

His students could end up in research labs, hospitals or at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but for now their goal is something loftier.

“We all want to be like Dr. Pratt,” said Emily Cortez, 15.

Obituaries and death notices for July 26, 2019

Dianne Marie Arner

Lori J. Coplien

Arlene Gotts

Daniel R. Hornik

Timothy Patrick Murrey

Walter Glenn Williams

Angela Major 

Connor Duggan watches his ball fly toward the green Thursday, July 25, 2019, at the Janesville Country Club.