By Nicole Minier
COLUMBIA CITY — It wouldn’t be festival season in Whitley County without an elephant ear from the Whitley County Shrine Club.
The deep-fried, cinnamon-sugar treats are a staple for many families attending Old Settlers, Turtle Days and the city’s annual July fireworks.
Shriner elephant ears began in 1995, an idea by the late Dave Hawn. Though Hawn passed away in 2010, the tradition continues, and has generated more than $100,000 for the Shriners.
The Whitley County Shrine Club sells about 3,000 elephant ears a year, bringing in about $10,000 a year — with all profits going to local children.
There’s about 35-40 Whitley County children who are treated at Shrine Hospitals in Chicago and Cincinnati.
“The money stays here and we help kids in the county,” said Ken Lundquist, of the Shrine Club.
Lundquist said most of the money goes to the transportation fund, which is responsible for taking children and their parents to and from Shrine hospitals.
Dry ingredients for the treats are mixed up several weeks in advance of parade season. When it’s time to make the elephant ears, water is added and everything is combined in large mixers. Time is given for the dough to rise, then it’s spread out flat before going into the fryers. When they’re all cooked, they’re coated with a layer of cinnamon and sugar. It takes several people to keep the assembly line moving.
“We enjoy it. Sometimes it’s hard work, but there’s a lot of people who enjoy them. They are really good,” Lundquist said.
At last year’s fireworks at Morsches Park, the line for elephant ears was 60 yards long — people knew it was their last chance for the tasty treat until the next summer, Lundquist said.
“We’ve had carnival workers, people who travel all over the country, tell us that we have the best elephant ears they’ve had,” Lundquist said. “There’s a lot of people who say they only come down here for the elephant ears.”
Lundquist said they use a “secret” flour, which is donated by a company in Kendallville — all 1,500 pounds.
The other ingredients are mostly purchased through money raised at the Shriner’s swiss steak dinner, held in the spring. Everyone who helps make the elephant ears volunteers time — about 25 people — so that all money raised can be used to help local children.
“When people help us out, they know what the money is being used for,” Lundquist said.