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One of the most endearing group of fish fryers out there that I’ve come across are the Corpus Christi Fryers — a group of parents who banded together in 1990 over deep fried, golden flaky fish as a way to fund the athletic association at Corpus Christi School to purchase equipment, uniforms and pay league fees.
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For the first decade the group did one or two fish fries a year, but expanded over the years to help other Catholic parishes and events in the community. So far this year they’ve put on three fish fries with the largest yet to come during the Lenten season.
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When it comes to fish fry expertise, these fryers have it in spades, frying between 3,500 to 4,000 pounds of Icelandic cod in the first four months of 2020.
“The prep work is the most important part of a fish fry. We will start preparing for a fish fry, depending on the size of the fry, some four (or) five hours, before the start time of the fry. All of us prepare the food, serve the food, and clean up after the fry is over. The prep works includes … cutting and breading the fish, putting the cole slaw together, doctoring up the bake beans, making mac and cheese, cooking the sausage, making cocktail sauce, and making sure the other condiments are ready to put out,” said Jim Rougier, one of the group’s founders.
“I remember one time a lady coming up to me at a CJ (Chaminade Julienne) fish fry telling me how good the fish was and how good the other food is,” he said. “She also told me how sorry she was that we had to work so hard and were not able to enjoy the fish fry. I assured her that as much fun she and the other people were having, we were having just as much fun if not more fun while working in the kitchen preparing the food. I am not sure she believed me or understood what I meant. All one has to do is watch what goes on while we are working in the kitchen and they will understand that it is not work and we love putting on a fish fry for others to enjoy.”
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The joy that Rougier talks about is palpable both in the kitchen and in the community space where diners get together to enjoy golden fried fish and break bread together.
Their sides include fries, cole slaw, bake beans, mac and cheese and homemade deserts that perfectly complement the piles of crispy, flaky delicious fried fish that was served up. The group prides itself on not using any prepared or pre-packaged food and it tastes like it year after year.
Our community has been blessed with a full calendar of Friday fish fries with plenty scheduled from now through April, and Corpus Christi Fish Fryer events are some of the best.
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The largest annual fish fry for the Corpus Christi Fryers is the CJ Alumni Fish Fry on March 21, where they expect to serve around 1,200 to 1,400 people with up to 800 pounds of fish. It’s a demanding event that requires extra fryers and an army of extra volunteers to make it work and feed the masses.
Rougier, Chuck Szabo, Charlie Helldoerfer, Ron Finke, George Eaton and Al Beach are all original Fryers, along with John Keferl, Bill Evans, Zachary Rougier, Bobby Menker, Jon Boeckman, Steve Stockelman, Steve Timmer and Father Jim Schuttel. Ann Rougier and Ann Szabo help out as the “Fryettes.” Timmy Szabo, Marty Gehres and Frank Gehres are “minnows in training” according to Rougier. This year they will feed several thousand local people while raising thousands for local nonprofits and charities.
The food this team of fryers puts out represents some of the best that local fish fries have to offer. On top of it, the story of Rougier and his crew is an endearing 30-year story of volunteerism, love, community and tasty fried fish.
“Every member of the Corpus Christi Fryers are volunteers. We do not get paid to do a fish fry. We are just of bunch of people that love to put on a fish fry. We always enjoy ourselves and have a great time while doing a fish fry. The only pay we get are the memories that we take with us that will last a lifetime,” said Rougier.
Fish fries are reunions, they are community get-togethers, they are fundraisers and they are definitely memory makers — especially where the Corpus Christi Fish Fryers are concerned.
UPCOMING CORPUS CHRISTI FISH FRYER DATES
Feb. 28: St. Anthony, 1824 St. Charles Ave., Dayton
March 7: Corpus Christi Church, 249 Squirrel Road, Dayton
March 21: Chaminade Julienne, 505 Ludlow St., Dayton
Note: If you do attend one of the Corpus Christi Fryer events, be sure to keep your eyes open for any live auctions. The group sometimes offers a private backyard fish fry party at the auctions that take place for 20 to 25 people complete with fish, fries, cole slaw, baked beans, mac and cheese, condiments, dinnerware, soda and beer.