Of Strawberries and Scholarships

Baileys Harbor Women’s Club serves up a sweet Fourth of July tradition

Since 1968, the Baileys Harbor Women’s Club (BHWC) has been dishing up strawberries, ice cream and shortcake for a good cause during its annual Strawberry Fest, held in conjunction with Baileys Harbor’s July Fourth festivities.

During its first years of operation, BHWC contributed funds to the Door County Federation of Women’s Clubs’ Scholarship Fund, but in 2002, BHWC members decided to provide scholarships independently to graduating Gibraltar High School students living in Baileys Harbor. 

Though the main purpose of Strawberry Fest is to support local teens, BHWC vice president Susan Geils said many people who make a yearly tradition out of eating the club’s strawberry shortcakes don’t realize what their money is supporting. 

“Our big thing this year was to make people more aware of the scholarship aspect of our club,” she said. 

The first of these scholarships was distributed in 2004, and since then, 40 students have received scholarships totaling $31,000. This year’s $2,000 scholarship recipient is Emiliano Marvin.

“The scholarship is our way to support youth and support Baileys Harbor,” Geils said. “Those two things go hand in hand.”

That goal is especially important now because the pandemic shut down Strawberry Fest for the past two years, depriving BHWC of a major fundraising opportunity. 

But the pandemic wasn’t Strawberry Fest’s first experience with unexpected adversity. BHWC secretary Marcia Eckdahl remembers one year when the freezers in the town hall were broken, so she had to recruit a resident in a nearby house to keep the ice cream in the home’s freezer. Then, that resident’s son spent all day delivering ice cream to Strawberry Fest – and trying to move fast enough to keep it cold.

“He had to go back and forth, back and forth, carrying six or seven ice cream buckets on the handles of his scooter,” Eckdahl said. 

Even during years without a freezer malfunction (or a pandemic), hulling 150 quarts of strawberries is no easy task. But the end result is worth it: a heaping bowl of shortcake topped with fresh berries and ice cream for $5.

“It seems to be a good way for us to show the community that we are there, and we’re there to help,” Geils said.