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Charities benefit from lobster feed

LO Rotary Club fundraiser set for June 16
by: File Photo, 
Last year’s Lake Oswego Rotary Club Lobster Feed and Charity Auction netted $180,000 for area charities.

What Lake Oswego event best combines having lots of fun with doing lots of good?

The Lake Oswego Rotary Club Lobster Feed and Charity Auction, of course.

This year the LO Rotary Club, with the assistance of more than 500 Maine lobsters, plans to do it again for the 23rd time on June 16 at, as always, the Lakewood Center for the Arts. The theme is 'Starlight Cruise.'

'This is Lake Oswego's largest fundraiser for a one-day event,' said Andrew Edwards, executive director of the Lakewood Center and also a participant in all previous 22 Lobster Feeds. 'Historically, this event brings Lake Oswego together to raise millions and benefit organizations.'

'It's the best party of the year by far,' said Warren Oliver, who has been with the feed from the first.

'We have a real good time,' said Nancy LaBonte, who is serving as event chair for the second year.

The numbers indicate the magnitude of this event. Starting out with a modest 100 lobsters served in 1982, the feed has gone as high as 654 lobsters. Last year the number was 560, but that was by design.

'We scaled it down,' said LaBonte. 'We wanted to make it more intimate. There was so much noise!'

What really indicates what the Lobster Feed is all about is the money it raises for charity. Last year the event grossed a whopping $250,000 and netted $180,000. Over the years it has grossed $3 million, according to Edwards.

Originally intended to raise money for the Lakewood Center, the Lobster Feed now assists a wide variety of charities and organizations, such as the Lake Oswego School Foundation, Clackamas County Women's Services, Oswego Heritage Council, Child Advocates (formerly CASA), and more. This year there will be a special appeal for the Children of the Golden Triangle.

To see the Rotary members roll out hundreds of plates full of hot lobster, corn and clams with such precision and efficiency is a thing of beauty.

'The hard work they put in is amazing,' said new member Brenda Suteu, who is getting her Lobster Feed baptism this year as a member of the public relations committee. 'How many years they must have put in to get this good!'

'The way we have it, everything comes out the way it should,' Edwards said. 'The lobster is just right. The clams are just right.'

However, such sophistication wasn't always the case. A good source for that is Oliver, who is credited as the feed's founder, or as he more modestly puts it 'almost the founder.'

His fellow Rotarians considered Oliver a natural to take the reins of the event since he comes from Lobster Country (Massachussetts). But he had some scary mishaps due to the fickle fist of fate.

'The first time we were all ready to go and just about to start to cook, we had a cloudburst,' Oliver said. 'We had to put 400 pounds of charcoal in one big pile and it was like a blast furnace. It cooked the lobsters in two minutes, but we could only do 12 to 15 at a time.

'When we got done, there wasn't much time left for the auction.'

Meanwhile, patrons of the event were sitting under a tent, which turned out to have many holes in it.

'The water was coming down in buckets,' Edwards said. 'We pushed the poles and the water went right on the lobster eaters.'

Now, the Lobster Feed has a huge tent that doesn't leak and a large, well-trained workforce, and things go very, very smoothly. Usually.

At last year's event Edwards was met by the sight of the chefs packing up to leave. Such a display of chefly temperament was quite unexpected, but the cause was quite simple: they couldn't turn on the gas to cook the baked potatoes.

Soon, Edwards found himself on a cellphone trying to connect with somebody who could tell him how to make the connection on the stove so the gas could be turned on. Meanwhile, the chefs were tapping their feet.

'It was sort of like bringing in a 747,' Edwards said.

But it was mission accomplished. The gas was turned on and the potatoes were baked. The Lobster Feed has always been able to avoid a last-minute dash to bring in pizza or Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Although the food is wonderful, it is the auction that has done the most to make the Lobster Feed such a special event. Rotary members absolutely knock themselves out with ingenuity to bring in objects of intense interest.

The spirit of this enterprise is typified by Vic Keeler, whose procuring talents are legendary.

'He is an amazing person,' Edwards said. 'We have competition among teams to bring in the best items and everyone wants Vic on their team.'

Fundraising has come a long ways since the days of the duck walk. It involved a well-fed duck waddling around on something like a giant bingo card. The duck's method of selecting the winning number should best be left to the imagination.

'We decided it wasn't quite sophisticated enough,' Edwards said.

These days the Rotarians use computers instead of a duck, and they auction off amazing things like a vintage Model A Ford, which brought a record bid of $10,000.

'Everyone does such an incredible job to make this thing happen,' said incoming LO Rotary Club president Charles Collins. 'The cooperation between Rotary Club and the Lakewood Center has been great.'

For tickets and information for the 2007 Lake Oswego Rotary Club Lobster Feed, go to the club's Web site at www.lorotary.org. To contribute auction items, call 503-635-6338. -

Lakewood Center is located 368 S. State St. in Lake Oswego.