Food for a cause is especially tasty

Mary Alice Powell
Mary Alice Powell

HAMLER, Ohio — A breakfast invitation from Mayor Jeff Brubaker was put on the front burner. There was no way I would miss such an opportunity. After all, breakfast is my favorite meal and what better reason could there be for a first-time visit to Hamler than to break bread with the mayor?

Hamler is a village in Henry County with a population of 650 people. It may be best known for the annual Summer Fest held the last weekend in July, but there are seven other days in the year when townspeople display their community spirit.

The Saturday morning that I drove to Hamler at the invitation of Mayor Brubaker was one of the days when the firehouse is converted into a public breakfast diner and 23 Hamler Volunteer Fire Department members serve hundreds of people in five hours.

Once downtown, the aromas of sausage, pancakes, scrambled eggs, and French toast cooking on grills led the way to the large building where long banquet tables replaced the fire trucks that had been moved for the morning. If there is a specialty of the firehouse, no doubt it’s Mayor Brubaker’s omelets that he prepares with precision according to the requests he receives. “I love to cook,” the mayor said.

The ordering, cooking, and serving of the food ran smoothly because the firefighters have it down to a workable system.

Customers mark their food preferences and their name on order sheets that are at a sign-in table, and the sheets are turned over to the grill cooks. There’s a scrambled egg cook, a pancake baker, a sausage griller, etc. Each cook prepares just one kind of food, which accounts for the fast service. Minutes after customers are seated, their food is served.

The price is by donation only. Obviously the 300 people who attended dug deep into their pockets to contribute to the large money jar at the end of the order table. The $2,300 raised will be used for new fire gear, including coats and pants, according to the mayor.

It is no secret that firefighters enjoy cooking, and the Hamler group is no exception.

When the first breakfast was held in 1984, Mayor Brubaker’s father, George Brubaker, was fire chief. “He was a great cook,” the mayor said.

About 75 people attended the first breakfast that was held at the Summer Fest grounds because the current firehouse wasn’t built until 1987 with money raised at various events. The breakfast money also paid for a large meeting room that is adjacent to the firehouse and the treasury is now earmarked for an even larger building.

Plans call for the conversion of a vacant Hamler building that was formerly an auto parts manufacturing company into a firehouse that will be several times larger than the present one. The target completion date is mid-2015 and a contractor will be hired to do the work, the mayor said. The Hamler fire department also serves Marion Township.

Mayor Brubaker retired in August after working 38 years as aircraft maintenance supervisor at Toledo National Guard. He is also pit road supervisor at Michigan International Speedway each summer at the NASCAR races. But the Hamler community is his first love.

“Not everyone can grow up and live their life in the same town,” he said, adding that he has no desire to live any other place. Like his father, he was Hamler fire chief 16 years, giving it up to become the mayor.

The night of the breakfast he and his wife, Liz, gave a Christmas party “because it gets too busy around Christmas.” He put the leftover chicken and steak from the party to good use by making fajitas for the fire department meeting three days later. Firemen just don’t get together without eating.

The mayor is also known as an avid gardener and a baker. His sweet potato and pecan pie brought $50 at the recent Hamler Heritage auction.

Future breakfast dates are Dec. 14, Jan. 11, Feb. 8, March 8, and April 12, from 6:30 to 11:30 a.m.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.

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