The Richeyville fire hall was where the wild things were Saturday evening.
Squirrel and dumplings, bacon-wrapped venison, fried gator tail and rabbit stew were among the exotic fare that went from stovetop, to serving tray, to plates, to inquisitive stomachs during the 17th annual Outdoors Bash and Wild Game Dinner.
“It’s bear. Try it,” said Joe Stefko, while chopping a swatch of well-done meat on a cutting board. He is an instructor at California University of Pennsylvania and a retired state Game Commission official whose professional domain was bears – live ones.
It was kind of beefy but great, proving that some days you do, indeed, get the bear.
The student chapter of the Wildlife Society at Cal U. hosts this annual spring event, a significant fundraiser for the club that – appropriately – is wildly popular. About 400 crowded into the hall, the maximum allowed.
Fire halls, especially, don’t want to be cited by the fire marshal.
Attendees were eager to get there, too. Doors opened at 5, an hour before the dinner bash began.
“But people started to come in at 4:30,” said Katie Kelly, club president. “We couldn’t say ‘You can’t come in,’ especially with it raining.”
Kelly, a senior from Greensburg majoring in fisheries and wildlife biology, said each of the past three years, the Cal U. club raised $5,000 to $8,000 from the event.
“We get an allocation from the school,” Kelly said, “but the majority of the money we get comes from this event.”
“This allows us to go to the national conference of the Wildlife Society, which is held all over the country, plus student conferences and workshops to learn field skills,” said Dr. Carol Bocetti, an assistant professor in Cal U.’s Department of Biological and Evironmental Sciences.
Bocetti, the club adviser, said 25 to 30 students assisted with the event, which included hours of preparation, setting up tables and display area and cooking. The club, she added, has about 70 members paying dues.
“It’s really nice seeing former students help with this event,” said Bocetti, head of a literal hot stove league on this night. She was the lead chef, in charge of a student-dominated kitchen crew.
“Not all (former students) came back here and sweat. They’re the special ones.”
Stacy Carroll, originally from Holbrook, Greene County, was among “the special ones.” She graduated in 2009.
“I wanted to help out,” she said. “It’s grown a lot since I was in school. It’s a huge event, a great fundraiser.”
They prepared the aforementioned specialties plus elk, orange cranberry duck and goose, beaver stir fry, venison chili and other far-from-traditional dishes.
“I’m going to try the gator tail,” said Sara Seigworth, a sophomore from Erie. “I’m cooking it, but I haven’t tried it.”
A number of participating students are majoring in fisheries and wildlife biology, including Jordan Welker. He is a junior from Dalmatia, about 50 miles north of Harrisburg – a natural habitat for a number of items being served.
Welker has been with the club for three years and is the current secretary. Like everyone else in the hall, he was having a wild time.
“It’s hard work, but in the end, it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “You get to interact with professors. The USDA is here. And you get to be with family and friends.
“You also get to eat good food.”