FORT SMITH -- The Ladies’ Auxiliary of Immaculate Conception Church is about to send its youngest member to kindergarten.
Riley Becker began attending the group’s weekly crafters’ meetings when she was only eight weeks old, and as she grew, she became an indispensable helper to the dozens of grandmas there.
“Today I filled cups with ice. Last week I helped the cooks and cut ribbons,” Becker said.
Joyce Becker, Riley’s grandmother, said she began taking Riley, her ninth grandchild, to meetings because she no longer operated the in-home daycare she had when the other eight were young.
“I retired in 2011,” she said. “I had always made crafts for the auxiliary at night, and Riley and I enjoyed going to meetings every week.”
One of the Becker team’s specialties is crafting tiny robots with arms and legs made of candy.
The Ladies’ Auxiliary has held a Holiday Bazaar for 51 years, and its crafters work all year to build their inventory. They occupy three rooms at St. Anne’s Building each Wednesday. There is a sewing and embroidery room, a crafts room for quilters and a variety of crafts, and a kitchen where volunteers prepare a weekly luncheon and brainstorm ideas for the Gourmet to Go booth. The kitchen crew is renowned for its featherbed rolls, a recipe featured on page 118 of the group’s 50th anniversary cookbook published in 2019.
Lona Seiter and Laverne Neihouse, past presidents of the auxiliary, said the Rosary Altar Society was reorganized in 1969 as the Ladies’ Auxiliary. While the auxiliary still prays the rosary together after their lunch break each week, their ministry has expanded in many directions.
“Father John (Antony, pastor) gives us a wish list every year,” Seiter said. “We provide vestments for the priests, flowers and candles, hosts and communion wine, baptismal bibs, and palms and ashes. We sing in the funeral choir.”
Their 55 members are divided into four circles who perform outreach ministries on a rotating basis. They visit shut-ins and crochet prayer shawls for people who are ill or grieving. They hold an annual Lenten Day of Recollection and operate a pie booth at the Spring Festival supporting the school. They care for the flower garden in front of the church and keep “Teter’s Sock Drawer,” in memory of a former member, well stocked. They host luncheons after parishioners’ funeral Masses.
“We just held a luncheon for all the families who had buried loved ones during the pandemic,” Shelley Gilker, Holiday Bazaar chairwoman, said. “We couldn’t have funeral luncheons for several months last year, and we couldn’t hold a 2020 bazaar.”
The 2021 Holiday Bazaar will be held Saturday, Nov. 6, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 7, from 8 a.m.-noon. Lunch will be served Saturday from 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
“We’ll have all our traditional booths -- Gourmet to Go, Christmas, arts and crafts, sewing, country store, and children’s -- and some new ones,” Gilker said. “We are planning a homemade candy booth, children’s craft kits and activities, pottery, and specialty booths.”
Immaculate Conception students get to preview the Holiday Bazaar the day before it opens. “Each student gets $5 to shop for gifts for their families,” Gilker said. “We have lots of inexpensive gifts they can choose from.”
One of the shoppers this year will be an Immaculate Conception kindergarten student Riley Becker. She will be able to share stories with her classmates about the fun she had making them with her many “grandmas” and how each one was handcrafted with love, prayer, and laughter.
“This is a beautiful community where new and old members find a home,” Gilker said. “Everyone is warmly welcomed into our family.”
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