No one is quite sure when the women began cooking for the Lions Club weekly meetings at the old Howell Memorial Methodist Church in Dickinson. They all agree it was decades ago. Yet, one thing is very clear in the mind of church member Phraulene Deats: After several years of preparing meals on a small, four-burner gas stove, Phraulene Deats, along with, Therese Deats and Cleo Deats Harrison, went to see Walter Hall at Citizens State Bank about a loan to buy a commercial stove.
“He said he couldn’t loan money to women,” Phraulene Deats said. “And I asked, ‘Why not?’ We had quite a time of it, but in the end, he gave in.”
A few years later, the women began cooking for the Dickinson Rotary Club. That was 50 years ago. Vira Dell Dale, one of the original cooks, is the widow of Bill Dale, and daughter of the late F. B. McRee, both founding Rotarian members.
In 1976, the congregation moved to a new facility, now known as First United Methodist Church of Dickinson, and the tradition of cooking for Rotarians continued. Church members Fern Caswell and Harriet Spengler designed the much needed commercial kitchen, which finally provided the group with a functional place to work.
Today, about 50 women and a few men are dedicated volunteers who cook for weekly Rotary meetings and other church functions. The group is known as the Food Service Committee; Molly Deats is the chairwoman and Myrna Brothers is treasurer. At 8 a.m. sharp each Wednesday, a different crew of about eight arrives to begin cooking in the Fellowship Hall. The person in charge coordinates and plans the day, which normally wraps up about 2 p.m.
A different menu is planned each week, consisting of good, home-cooked meals. The men in Food Service cook on the fifth Wednesday of each month, which adds up to about four times a year.
“We help the men with certain things in the kitchen, like chopping and setting the table,” Molly Deats said. “Although we volunteer our time, the Rotarians pay us for a certain number of meals, so we make money that we use for various church necessities like tables, purchase of a commercial freezer, parking lot updates, and much more. But above all, it’s a ministry for the ladies of the church.”
The committee members have become great friends, and have seen each other through illnesses.
“If some of our members are recuperating from a hospital stay, or confined to their homes, we take them a meal,” Molly Deats said. “We also donate leftover food to a local drug rehab facility.”
A typical day begins with making the tea, preparing the meat, cooking vegetables, chopping and slicing ingredients for salads and baking desserts. A favorite Rotary dish is chicken-fried steak with gravy and mashed potatoes or mac and cheese.
“On the days that we make stew, there’s a lot of peeling and chopping,” volunteer Doris Burbank said. “So, we have to get to work early.”
Stew isn’t the most difficult meal, however. Most of the women agree that status belongs to enchiladas. Food preparation for the Rotary Luau each August also entails a lot of cutting and decorating with fruit.
“We wear leis, but don’t do the hula,” Burbank said.
Although much work and preparation go into the meals, the women enjoy the camaraderie.
“It’s not really work; it’s the fellowship,” longtime member Zella Rice said.
The group is welcoming of new members.
“Most of us didn’t know each other, but over the years, new people would come in and we would become family,” Phraulene Deats said.
The Galveston County Health District presented its 10th Annual Gold Ribbon award to the Food Service group in 2007.
“It was a real honor,” Molly Deats said.