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At Friendship Fire Co., the Annual Block Party is All About Traditions ( … and Bean Soup)

Block party season is officially underway in Schuylkill County!

Troy Miller stirs the bean soup in one of the massive cast iron kettles hanging over a fire pit at the Friendship Fire Co. block party in Englewood.

It was 11 o’clock Friday morning and the bleenie line at Friendship Fire Co.’s annual block party was 20 feet long. But the block party didn’t start until noon.

People can’t seem to wait when it comes to the bleenies, the bean soup, or all the other traditions carried on at this fire company’s annual block party.

Friendship Fire Co., just outside Frackville in Englewood, Butler Township, always has its annual block party on Memorial Day weekend. It’s the first block party of the calendar year among many in Schuylkill County.

The festivities have already begun and will carry on until Sunday, May 26. Bleenies, bean soup, funnel cakes, and more – mostly all of it homemade – is available each day starting at noon.

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Three bands are set to perform this weekend: Kartune on Friday, from 7-11 p.m.; Hooligan on Saturday, from 7-11 p.m.; and Golden Tones Polka Band on Sunday, from 2-6 p.m.

A massive firetruck and apparatus parade officially kicks off the weekend’s festivities at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

There is plenty of fun for the kids at this block party, too.

Traditions: Homemade Bean Soup, Bleenies, Funnel Cakes and More

The bleenie line at the Friendship Fire Co. block party was 20 feet long an hour before the kitchen even officially opened and it didn’t slow down in the first couple hours. Don’t expect it to be any shorter the rest of the weekend.

The highlight of this weekend’s block party – the 97th in the 99 years the fire company has existed – is the food. Nearly ever morsel is homemade, from the bleenies and bean soup to the funnel cakes.

The fire company even makes its own kielbasa.

Why? It’s all about tradition, Englewood Fire Chief Ed Beneshunas says.

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Of course. Why else would people line up to drown themselves in piping hot bean soup on a warm, Spring day?

More than 200 GALLONS of bean soup daily!

Well, it is pretty good bean soup and we hear the bleenies are really good, too.

The bean soup is put together using the same recipe that’s been used for years. And every bit of it is painstakingly prepared. The beans are soaked in advance. The veggies are cut by hand.

Then, it’s poured into massive cast iron kettles that are hung above a bit concrete fire pit and tended to by members of the fire company through the weekend. The kettles range in size from 30 to 50 gallons.

More than 200 gallons of bean soup are sold every day during the block party.

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By 2 p.m. on Friday – keep in mind, the block party had only been open for a couple hours at this point – the fire company had gone through two full kettles of bean soup. They’ll sell through seven on the first day of the block party, alone.

Bleenies are a labor of love and tradition

Gale Kufrovich has been working at the Friendship Fire Co. block party in Englewood since she was 12 years old. This weekend, she'll be flipping bleenies for three days as anxious customers wait in anticipation.
Gale Kufrovich has been working at the Friendship Fire Co. block party in Englewood since she was 12 years old. This weekend, she’ll be flipping bleenies for three days as anxious customers wait in anticipation. (Coal Region Canary photos)

Gale Kufrovich is one of more than a handful of folks at bleenie frying stations at the block party’s kitchen.

She says she’s been helping at the block party since she was 12 years old.

“I grew up down the street, so we’ve been raised here,” Kufrovich says.

She adds that working at the annual block party, serving up bleenies, is a labor of love and, of course, tradition.

“Oh, my God. I love it. It brings back great memories of my grandmother and my great-aunt,” Kufrovich says. “We’re all just great family … friends and family.”

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Seeing people who come back to the area for the annual block party is another joy of working the bleenie line.

“It’s good … I’ll be here three days,” she says.

The “famous” funnel cakes

"Famous" Frank McGurl uses a homemade funnel cake batter and they don't skimp on portions at the Friendship Fire Co. block party.
“Famous” Frank McGurl uses a homemade funnel cake batter and they don’t skimp on portions at the Friendship Fire Co. block party.

Out of nowhere on Friday, we hear, “Hey, you can’t forget Frank’s famous funnel cakes.”

It’s Frank McGurl and he tends to the funnel cake stand at the block party. And these funnel cakes are made to the same standards nearly everything else on the menu is … they’re 100% homemade.

“Everything we do here,” McGurl says in reference to his funnel cakes to the bean soup, bleenies, and more, “We make our own stuff. Everything.”

McGurl’s been frying up the funnel cakes for at least 15 years now.

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“A lady asked me one time, ‘Well, what makes you so famous?’,” he says. “Well, I’m Frank’s Famous Funnel Cakes. That’s why. It’s just one of those things. Someone said something we just ran with it.”

Keeping Traditions Alive Keeps This Fire Company Alive

Sure, people may line up and wait for 30 minutes or more for a bleenie. They may salivate at the thought of slurping down some homemade bean soup.

But what people seem to really want most, especially here at the Friendship Fire Co. block party, is traditions.

Luckily, for the community served by this fire company and all of Schuylkill County, the folks who make this annual block party happen are happy to keep them going, even as so many other traditions around Schuylkill County – especially fire company block parties – go by the wayside.

“It’s unique, is what it is,” Beneshunas says. “It’s all about tradition.”

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And this tradition is vital to the life of the fire company.

This weekend’s receipts will account for between 25-35% of the fire company’s annual revenue. So, it’s very important for everyone at Friendship Fire Co. to keep this tradition alive.

Featured photo caption: Troy Miller stirs the bean soup in one of the massive cast iron kettles hanging over a fire pit at the Friendship Fire Co. block party in Englewood.

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