SAINTE MARIE — By early Sunday, 400 meals were already served in the tiny community of Sainte Marie during its annual Pre-Labor Day Picnic.

One volunteer estimated 1,000 meals would be sold in the village of about 200 people during the annual church fundraiser — now in its 182nd year — for St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church.

Many credit the event’s longevity and success to community and church members, as well as people in surrounding towns who year and year keep coming back. For others, it is a homecoming, and for some, it’s simply a great little family festival with something for everyone.

“It takes everybody in the parish,” said volunteer Bruce Ochs. “We’ve probably got about 200 people helping out throughout the day.”

Jerome Kocher has volunteered for many years. He was in charge of the bingo stand for 33 years. He and Jeannette Kocher of Ste. Marie manned the quilt raffle this year.

Volunteer Tony Hartrich, of Ste. Marie, agrees the event takes a lot of volunteers to make it possible and keep the long-standing tradition going.

“We all get family members to come back,” said Hartrich. “Basically, it is like a big family reunion. We have a good community with good people who want to just keep it going.”

Anne (Roth) Pool, of Paris, who came back for the picnic this year, was looking over items from the White Elephant Sale, as a part of the fundraiser. The event also included raffles, food stands, kids games and gift basket raffle.

“Our family is from here and the chicken dinner is wonderful,” said Pool. “The games for the kids are just wonderful. There’s so many things for kids if you have little ones.”

Becca Ochs of Newton organizes the children’s games, which is fitting for a mom of three. This year there was a basketball shoot, a strongman game, sand art, fish pond, Tenzi (dice game), pop toss and more.

“Someone in our parish builds a bunch of games and we rotate them out so there are different games each year,” said Becca Ochs. “I grew up in Ste. Marie. My kids love it here. They call this ‘the fair.’”

Christina Hall, of Sullivan, Indiana, came with her family to the picnic.

“We grew up here and this is our home church,” said Hall. “It’s a family tradition for us.”

The Rev. Dean Probst said the annual main fundraiser for the church is a big draw. He’s in his fourth year at the parish.

“It does well, because this is the 182nd consecutive event,” said Probst. “The people here are very supportive. Former parishioners come back and want to help. And it’s a good meal.”

There’s something here for everyone, he said.

Dawn Schabbing can be reached at or 217-347-7151, ext 138.


Dawn Schabbing is a senior reporter at the Effingham Daily News, covering Effingham City Hall, Unit 40, and special projects. A graduate of Lake Land College and Eastern Illinois University with degrees in journalism, she lives in Neoga.

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