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Steam rose from the grills Saturday as cooks flipped pancakes in the Kiwanis Club of Casper’s wagon behind the Casper College cafeteria. The aroma wafting through the Tobin Dining Hall courtyard greeted crowds as they arrived for the 65th annual Kiwanis Pancake Festival.

Volunteers from Kiwanis and various student and community organizations — from the serving line to the kitchen and wagon — kept the pancakes, eggs, hash browns and sausage filling hundreds of plates.

The Kiwanis Club of Casper’s main fundraising event benefits its youth and service organizations, including reading programs, ability playgrounds, scholarships and a current project to refurbish the shelter at Crossroads Park, festival co-organizer and past president of the club Darci Andersson said. The event is about community, from the volunteers to the more than 800 attendees at this year’s festival.

“I just love all of the people that come out to it. I love seeing the volunteers that we get from all different organizations, talking to them, I love the kids that come from NC and Kelly Walsh, I love seeing their drive and their excitement to volunteer to a good cause and I love seeing all the people that come out to our event every year.”

Mike Keim returned to the kitchen mid-morning to mix another 120 pounds of pancake batter with a power drill. He’s learned some tricks in his 41 years with the Kiwanis Club of Casper and its breakfast fundraisers.

This year, he mixed one green batch at Andersson’s suggestion since the Festival fell close to St. Patrick’s Day.

“Most of the time it’s the kids who want the green pancakes, but that’s fine,” Keim said. “Kiwanis is all about kids. That’s our main focus, that’s why we have Key Clubs in high schools, Circle Ks in college and Builders Clubs in junior high. We started all of these clubs to help kids mature and develop their leadership skills. And then those clubs benefit their schools because they run projects that help their school out.”

Local baker Gene Sneesby started the local festival 65 years ago and passed on the lead pancake duties to Keim when he retired. Keim uses a secret ingredient in his first batches of batter he mixes ahead of time.

“Gene told me his secret, and I have not shared it with anyone,” he said.

The college has provided facilities for the festival during its spring break for as long as Keim has been in the club, though in earlier years venues included the Fraternal Order of Eagles lodge and a downtown hotel, he said.

The festival’s crew included more than 30 volunteers from the Kiwanis Club of Casper, Kiwanis 307 and a variety of other community groups, Andersson said. Longime Kiwanis member Hampton Young scooped scrambled eggs into a pan and then dropped a large cube of margarine in a giant cooker to begin another batch. Other volunteers cooked, carried food to warmers and the serving line while others washed pots and pans.

“Thank you so much for coming, have a wonderful day,” Kelly Walsh High School sophomore Laura Hoversland told customers as she grinned and placed sausage links on their plates.

“I just love helping out in the community,” she said, “seeing new people’s faces just getting to know other people making their day.”

Diners in the cafeteria tucked into breakfasts while a balloon animal artist and face painters from the Key Club entertained children.

David Kamber brought a cup of coffee for his wife, Jennie, as he joined her at a table in the middle of the cafeteria. They’ve been regulars at the Kiwanis Pancake Festival for more than 20 years for the excellent breakfasts and causes, they said.

“The money goes to all these charities,” Jennie said, “and we just like to support.”

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Star-Tribune reporter Elysia Conner covers arts, culture and the Casper community.

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