ENDEAVOR — The draw can be spaghetti, brats, chicken-and-dumplings soup, ham and scalloped potatoes.
On this night it was 200 Salisbury steaks, 60 pounds of mashed potatoes, “a big ole pot” of gravy, 13 pounds of corn and dozens of dinner rolls with cake for dessert.
Young and old from throughout the socioeconomic spectrum show up. The intent of the gatherings on the last Wednesday of each month is about civility, community and togetherness. And, for the past six years, organizers of what is billed as the Sharing Supper believe their efforts have gone a long way in making this Marquette County village just north of Portage a better place to live.
Last week, for the January event, about 160 people from around the area communed at cafeteria tables in the gymnasium of Endeavor Elementary School, where they caught up and reminisced in between bites of the free meal. That’s a typical turnout, but remember: The village’s population is just north of 450 people.
“It’s kind of a bedroom community, so it’s nice to have something like this to get people together,” said Jeanne Cummings, 85, a regular at the meals. “I get to see people I otherwise wouldn’t. Especially in the winter, when no one gets out much.”
The meal is always free, but the donation jar on the table next to the napkins and rows of cups filled with lemonade, water and white and chocolate milk was stuffed with green bills on Wednesday night. Scouts BSA Troop 70 & 7070 from Portage United Methodist Church volunteered as servers. The meal was prepared by B&B Hitching Post Restaurant & Catering in Portage and transported the nine miles up Highway CX to Endeavor in the back of Linda Krueger’s Jeep Grand Cherokee. By the time she arrived at the school, shortly before 4:30 p.m., some people had already began to filter into the gymnasium. By 5 p.m., the tables, lined with place mats, were about three-quarters full.
“They want the parking spaces. They come early and then they sit and they talk,” said Kathy Thiemke, who helped fetch the Styrofoam cups, napkins, paper plates and plastic utensils from storage at Moundville United Methodist Church, a few miles to the southeast on Highway O.
“They don’t have to sign up. They don’t have to pay anything,” Thiemke said. “It’s just a community thing. Sometimes we have less people. Sometimes we have more. It just varies with weather and what people are doing.”
Thiemke is also why photographer Amber Arnold and I made the 51-mile drive from Madison to Endeavor last week. Thiemke had emailed me last Sunday, saying that she had sent a letter to our opinion page requesting that a photo of Endeavor used in a feature on our website be changed. She then invited us to Wednesday’s dinner.
The photo in question stems from a 2011 article I wrote about the village successfully eradicating termites that had infiltrated several downtown buildings. But when I was asked by my editors in 2015 to write a story about towns in Wisconsin that may not be widely known, I included Endeavor, since it was bypassed when Highway 51 was expanded to four lanes more than three decades ago. I pulled the photo that ran with the story from our archives. It was of a woman looking at a building that had been previously infested with termites. The “10 towns” story, however, kept popping up on social media and gave the impression that termites were still a thing.
We’ve since changed the photo and had an amazing couple of hours in Endeavor, where we had our fill of Salisbury steak and met tons of good people. They included Sharon Wade, who founded the Sharing Supper in 2014.
“I didn’t expect it to be this big,” said Wade. “I was hopeful that it would be, but it just continues to grow and it just blows me away.”
A brief history
Endeavor is a former railroad and lumber town but also was a center for vegetable farming. Located along Buffalo Lake, it was called Merritt’s Landing until 1890, when the name was changed to Endeavor, after the Christian Endeavor Academy, which once was in the village but closed in 1925. Few businesses remain, but the focal points include the 90-student elementary school, which is part of the Portage School District, and, next door, the Civic Center, home to Endeavor’s police department, village offices and the public library, which is celebrating 50 years.
But it was contention at village board meetings that pushed Wade to create a Sharing Supper in an effort to ease tensions and bring people together. She modeled it after a similar event that served its first meal in Mauston in 2007 and then helped start a Sharing Supper in Portage in 2015 that is held on the last Monday of each month at Wayne E. Bartels Middle School.
“We really wanted to figure out how to get the community to really come together, especially in times of difficulty and need,” said Wade, who grew up in Endeavor and is a business manager at a Baraboo law firm.
“It’s such a small community, so it’s nice to be able to have that. We really wanted to create an atmosphere where they could sit down with their friends or people they don’t know and connect.”
Sponsors step up
Each meal has a budget of $600. Last week’s event was paid for by past donations to the Sharing Supper, while Mike Bergman, who has owned B&B Hitching Post for the past nine years and normally serves a catered meal for $11.99 per plate, donated the costs above the $600. Other sponsors have include civic organizations, area restaurants and even families. If a restaurant is not involved, the food is purchased and prepared by the Sharing Supper committee at a local church.
Potlucks are not part of the effort.
“We wanted this to be a sit-down meal,” Wade said. “People are so busy now that sometimes this is their only sit-down meal as a family during the week.”
Like the Mauston Sharing Supper, the Endeavor meal includes information tables from community organizations. On Wednesday of last week they included the Aging & Disability Resource Center of Marquette County, the Endeavor Public Library and the U.S. Census Bureau, which is looking for workers. Mike Bourdeau, chief of the 21-member volunteer Endeavor-Moundville Fire Department, was also in attendance and took to the microphone to talk about the new location for a countywide paramedic service, and to remind residents to keep their furnace vents clear of snow and their house and fire numbers visible.
A time is also set aside to recognize birthdays, anniversaries and those who may be sick or who have recently died.
Joe and Sharon Ives came from nearby Briggsville. The retired couple lived in Chicago, where Joe repaired X-ray equipment, before they moved to Marquette County, where Joe was raised. They also are members of American Legion Post 329 in Briggsville, which sponsors the meal once a year.
“It’s fun to come and have a night that we don’t have to cook and meet some other people,” Sharon Ives, 78, said. “You know, us women get tired of cooking all of the time.”
Zachary and Miranda Smith, of Oxford, came with their young daughter, Alana, who opened enrolled to attend Endeavor Elementary. Wednesday was their first time at the Sharing Supper.
“I drive a school bus here and I kept hearing about it so we decided to try it,” Miranda Smith said.
“I think it needs to happen more across the country,” Zachary Smith added. “It’s a great way to know your neighbors.”
Photos: Community supper in Endeavor
Barry Adams covers regional news for the Wisconsin State Journal. Send him ideas for On Wisconsin at 608-252-6148 or by email at email@example.com.