Dan Bowley will reprise his first-day-of-hunting ritual Saturday. He’ll rise at 3 a.m., don blaze orange clothing, grab his hunting gear and venture out into the darkness.

But while most hunters head for a strategically placed tree stand in the woods, Bowley, 59, of Saco will be scouting a seat in the basement of the North Saco Congregational Church. That’s where the church will serve its 39th annual Hunters Breakfast, a big part of Bowley’s and other hunters’ seasonal traditions.

Always offered on the first two Saturdays of each hunting season, the meal is served from 4:30 to 11 a.m. and features homemade baked beans, eggs any style, pancakes, home fries, bacon, toast, a variety of muffins, juice and coffee.

For $7 per plate, diners can get the works or customize their orders. Throughout the meal, volunteers like Mike Johnson, Jackie Littlefield and the church’s pastor, the Rev. Gerry Scribner, stroll about the hall – a pot of hot coffee in hand, to top off emptying cups and chat with diners.

Dan’s wife, Cindy Bowley, will be there, too. She’s one of the dozen or so volunteers who’ll arrive by 3:30 a.m. to put on the coffee, heat the griddles and help pull the meal together in advance of hungry crowds.

“The hunters always get here first, wearing their orange and camo,” said Cindy. “It looks like a ‘Duck Dynasty’ convention.

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“Many of them linger to chat, have an extra cup of coffee and trade stories with some of the older guys. Families begin trickling in around 7 a.m.”

While there are always new attendees, the breakfast serves as a reunion of sorts for generations of area residents, among them the Leary clan of Saco. Jim Leary, 85, was a longtime member of former Saco Grange Hall No. 507, whose lodge has since been converted into the church’s fellowship hall.

“There are a lot of memories there for me,” said Leary. “I like to go to the breakfasts to catch up with old friends and share a meal.”

Jim’s son Tim Leary, 56, said attending the breakfast each year “is something our family has always done.” A father of eight, he wants to keep those traditions alive for his own children.

“I have a deep affinity for the church,” said Tim Leary. “My wife and I were married there … and so were my parents before me. My grandmother (Mable Leary) used to wash the dishes for these meals.”

Harley Remick, the church’s retired pastor, has attended the breakfasts for more than 30 years. Early on, Remick brought his eldest son for a hot meal before a day of hunting. Now 90, Remick no longer hunts but still enjoys attending the breakfasts with his wife, Carolyn Remick.

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“I go for the camaraderie,” said Remick. “It’s nice to see (the breakfast crew) working so well together and it’s a lot of fun.”

Dan Bowley’s family roots run deep here too. His grandmother Alberta “Mimi” Bowley was the church organist, and his mother, Barbara Bowley, served at the breakfast and often made pies for the meals.

Breakfast director Joyce Poulin said those pies are another big draw of the breakfasts. There will be about 50 of them. They’ll be generously sliced, in a wide variety of flavors and include fresh strawberry pie with whipped cream, a crowd favorite made by longtime volunteer Margaret Francis.

“We are no longer the only church serving a hunters breakfast. So we try to make it special,” said Poulin. “Where else can you get pie for breakfast?”

The hunters breakfast remains one of the church’s top fundraisers. In its first year there were just 78 diners. Last year, 560 people attended the two Saturday meals.

When the last meal is plated, the crew will have served up five cases each of bacon, eggs and potatoes, along with 20 pounds of baked beans and dozens of homemade muffins.

“We see this meal as a great service to our community,” said Poulin. “We have such a great crew and we are so appreciative of all of them.”

 


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