First year co-chairs Mary Role, Diane Kramer and Deb Bessette are pictured with fellow parishioners of St. Joseph Church in Hayward during a brief pause in the preparations for the annual Birkie Spaghetti Feed put on by the parish. In years past, the Catholic parish fed approximately 1,000 people. With others holding similar events, they expected to feed close to 600 for the 2022 event. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

The American Birkebeiner, North America’s largest cross-country ski race, brings more than 40,000 people to Northwest Wisconsin for the annual event. Close to 10,000 skiers take part in events that include children and young athletes, para-skiers and adult events at a 15k, 29k or 55k ski race.

The “Birkie” brings together people of all ages to celebrate the character and dedication of winter athletes. Since 1973, skiers from each state and numerous countries have come to ski the beautiful yet challenging terrain along the 32-mile trail system located between Cable and Hayward.

With many of the annual festivities and spectator events curtailed for 2021 at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, 2022 brought things close to normal.

St. Joseph Church pastor Fr. David Neuschwander commented, “The Birkie brings so many people into town – it brings a lot of life, it brings a lot of energy.”

He added that the parish’s spaghetti feed has become part of that tradition for a lot of people, many of whom only see each other once a year at the ski event. St. Joseph’s Friday night pre-Birkie carbo load spaghetti feed has been a highlight for skiers for more than 30 years.

A “great chance for hospitality,” Fr. Neuschwander called it. Parish members involved in the spaghetti feed are just one group of local Catholics who serve the greater community by volunteering in various aspects of the event.

One volunteer whose absence was sure to be felt for the 2022 Birkie was Hayward resident and St. Joseph parishioner Joe Timmerman. Having skied more than 20 Birkies, Timmerman then acted as lead organizer with his wife, Bean, of the Barnebirkie children’s event. He died in September 2020, and Fr. Neuschwander affirmed “his passing was felt all around community because of how well connected they were with year-round outdoor events.”

At weekend Masses, the priest acknowledges volunteers and racers, asking them to stand and bringing attention to the fact that the skiers have “achieved something that is really special.”