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Volunteers preparing pies for upcoming 10th annual Rhubarb Festival

Kristen Sawyer (left) and Barbara Pavcozich (right), volunteers at First United Methodist Church, roll out pie crusts on Tuesday in the church kitchen. (Bob King /

There are some smells that can lift both a person’s spirits and shoe heels, as though walking on air. Boiling strawberries and rhubarb for canning jam produces one such aroma.

One needed only to follow the smell to find the kitchen at First United Methodist Church on Tuesday. Inside were roughly a dozen women, stirring preserves, rolling pie crusts, crimping crusts into pans — all in anticipation of the 10th annual Rhubarb Festival on June 28. The festival raises money for CHUM. Churches across Duluth are pitching in all month long, hosting volunteer sessions for baking and canning all of the treats made available on festival day.

“We’re here to serve and benefit CHUM,” Kathy Maas said. “Some days they serve 57 families. It’s nice when the community meets together like this for CHUM.”

Debbi King taught home economics back in the day for Superior schools before she become dean of students for Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College. Retired now, she called the collective of volunteers a wonderful group. She liked the product, too.

“Yum-yum-yum,” she said, floating through the kitchen. “Strawberry-rhubarb. It’s the best jam. Not that we’re prejudice.”

Tuesday’s five-hour team effort netted 20 jars of jam and 94 pies, with crusts for 12 more — reserved for rhubarb meringue, which LeAnn House experimented with in her own home and came away touting a winner.

“Strawberry-rhubarb, blueberry-rhubarb, extra tart for those who don’t like it too sweet and want the whole blast of the rhubarb,” House said. “We’ll make raspberry-rhubarb if somebody donates raspberries. We’ll make some orange-rhubarb, too.”

There are as many churches involved as there are rhubarb pie varieties. Peace United Church of Christ, First Lutheran Church, Holy Family Catholic Church … they’re all pitching in. Some are chopping, some harvesting, some making crusts, some doing it all.

“We aren’t too heroic here at this church,” House said. “One day a week for a couple of weeks. It also has to do with freezer space.”

The effort was multigenerational, too. The youngest volunteer was 9 years old. Another, Kristen Sawyer, saw a sign in the Copper Top church’s lot that drew her to help out.

“It’s a great experience learning how to make jam and roll pie crusts,” she said. “I’ve met a lot of people I wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Anyone who’s dabbled in pie crusts knows the work can be tedious. House said it’s mostly because some people wait five years in between crusts. Her company of bakers had it down pat.

“There’s a feel to it,” House said. “After about 10 you’ll have it mastered.”

The collective pie-making knowledge in the kitchen put Plush Pippin to shame. Not that the women were into competition. Rather, as House said, “Many hands make for light work.” Smiles abounded. Helping hands and light demeanors were easy to find.

“It’s a great fellowship time,” said Karen Buell, “and it’s for a good cause.”

10th annual Rhubarb Festival If you want: To volunteer making rhubarb confections visit

If you go: The 10th annual Rhubarb Festival is June 28 at 11th Avenue East and London Road in Duluth  from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free