DE PERE, WI (WFRV) – Long before dawn, a savory smell rises over the hill upon which St. Mary Catholic Church stands.
Longtime church volunteer Fran DeCleene has been tending to the fire since midnight. All in preparation for his chicken and vegetable stew called Booyah.
“The story I got about Booyah is that it started in Brussels, Wisconsin,” Frand beings. “People back in the days, if they had extra carrots in their garden in the fall of the year, somebody had extra potatoes, they used to use pork or beef. They had a big get-together, and whatever everybody had extra, they would put it in a kettle and cook it up.”
The work began the night before. Volunteers cut up vegetables to fill two huge drums and produce more than 110 gallons of Booyah.
All the money from sales goes back to St Mary. Fran’s been doing this for the church for 25 years.
“I think people help because of Fran, they know he’s dedicated,” explained office manager Brant Bergeron. “Fran’s a true treasure here to the Greater Green Bay area and certainly here at St. Mary.”
Fran first boils the chicken, then removes it before adding the vegetable.
“I like to save vegetables to last so they don’t get too mushy,” explained Fran.
With sunrise, reinforcements arrive to start de-boning the chicken. As much as booyah is about mixing different foods together, it’s also about a blending of people.
“It’s pretty much the same guys,” offered volunteer Bob Coenen. “We’re all friends, and we all work together for the greater good of the community.”
Fran doesn’t go into too much detail about the spices he uses. He tends to his booyah regularly, and after some stirring and tasting and just as mass is letting out, the Booyah is ready to go.
Some parishioners bring their large pots to fill to the brim.
“I bought booyah last time,” shared Michelle Smits of Ledgeview. “Fran did it, and it was so amazingly delicious I came back to get more.”
An incredible undertaking from a man 85 years young who stirs up continued support to keep a Positively Wisconsin tradition simmering.