116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — For almost 50 years, parishioners of St. Ludmila Catholic Church have baked thousands of kolaches to sell to the community as an annual fundraiser.
The proceeds go back to the parish, helping pay down debt, complete special projects and purchase educational materials.
But the church won’t be hosting its annual Kolach Festival next year because the former St. Ludmila’s school -- where the kolaches are baked -- is being demolished and a community center built in its place.
But parishioners are using up ithe kolach dough mix and hosting a kolach bake on Saturday morning, Sept. 17.
The St. Ludmila school, at 215 21st Ave. SW, closed at the end of the 2017-18 school year. The third- and fourth-graders who attended the school moved to the St. Jude Center, a sister school. Both are part of LaSalle Catholic, formerly the Holy Family School System.
With the school building no longer being used, the church formed a committee to assess its future. The school — which was built in the 1950s — is not energy efficient or compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It would cost more to update it than build new, the Rev. Ken Glaser of St. Ludmila’s said.
The church decided to build a 35,000-square-foot community center to house the church offices, religious education programs and youth ministry and provide an all-purpose room that can be used as a gym or reception space. The building will cost $8 million, with $4.8 million raised to date in a capital campaign that started last October.
Because the kolaches are baked in the basement kitchen of the old school, the annual Kolach Festival will be put on hold until the new building is done. So no kolaches next year though the Kolach Festival should be back in June 2024.
The new building also will have a state-of-the-art kitchen dedicated to the making of kolaches, Glaser said, with multiple ovens, a rounder to shape the dough and a proofer to raise the dough.
The church typically raises $100,000 a year from its kolach sale, he said.
"It’s exciting and a little sad” to see the old school demolished, said Paula Fries, who has volunteered to bake kolaches at the church for about 30 years.
During that time, she’s done about every job on the production line — adding the fillings, buttering the dough, making dough balls to form the kolaches.
Before the church acquired a rounder to help shape the dough, a group of Czech women rolled the dough by hand, Fries said. She remembers fondly the people she worked with. Some, like Dorothy Nemecek, have died.
“My goal whenever I worked with her was always to get to my station before she did at 1:30 a.m.,” Fries said. “No matter what time I got there, Dorothy was already there every time. She was so dedicated, and so much fun. Those are the people who have a legacy of making kolaches.”
Volunteers like Mary Myers begin mixing the kolach dough at midnight before a kolach bake. From start to finish, a batch of kolaches takes about four hours to make, Fries estimated.
“It’s pretty intense work,” Fries said, but the camaraderie keeps people going. “The enthusiasm is contagious.”
How to buy
Kolaches will be available Saturday, Sept. 17, from 7:30 a.m. until noon or until they are all sold. The sale will be a drive-up with no preorders.
Fries’ favorite kolach is rhubarb, closely followed by cherry. Other flavors that will be available are apricot, apple and strawberry.
Kolaches cost $8 for half a dozen or $16 for a dozen. Fries acknowledged the slight price increase from previous years because the cost of filling has increased by 23 percent, she said.
People also can buy kolach dough to take home and make their own kolaches.
“I encourage people to give it a try, and maybe they’ll appreciate our efforts even more,” Fries said. “The key is our dough mix. It’s not like any other.”
St. Ludmila was founded in 1914 when five Notre Dame nuns arrived from what was then Czechoslovakia. The sisters lived in an old frame house, started a school in the same building, and then started to hold Mass. Now, about 1,100 families are members of the parish.
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