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flipping flapjacks for TLC
story by Shaila Creekmore • photo by Amy Long

T he Jonesboro Masonic Lodge #129 will be flipping pancakes for its silver anniversary of the Tidwell- Coleman Pancake Breakfast on May 3. In its 25-year
history, the Freemasons have given more than $100,000 to The Learning Center of Northeast Arkansas.

“At just $5 a ticket, that’s a lot of years and a lot of pancakes,” said
Gary Henderson, the current chairman of the annual pancake breakfast.

The breakfast is named for two late members, Gary Tidwell and Ernest Coleman, who were both instrumental in running the breakfast for more than two decades.

“Gary and Ernest played key rolls from the beginning to get it started – to get the ball rolling,” said Henderson. “They were two huge losses for our lodge.”

Tidwell was instrumental in the business operations of the breakfast, purchasing supplies and ingredients for the morning, designing and printing the tickets and cataloging and mailing tickets to the members.

Coleman handled publicity for the event, getting information about the breakfast out to the media, doing interviews and appearing on KAIT’s Midday to get as many people as possible to their event. He was also in charge of ticket sales and would go door-to-door to dozens of Jonesboro businesses to sale tickets.

“Everyone knew when he came in, he was there to sell pancake tickets,” said Henderson of Coleman. “Even when he was 90-something-years-old, he was out going door to door. There probably isn’t a door in town that he didn’t go to.”

Since Coleman’s passing, Henderson has taken to social media and other avenues to publicize the event and to try and grow attendance for the annual breakfast.

“We’re having to go to great lengths to fill his shoes,” said Henderson. “I’m coming in (and) taking over the process to try to fill the role these men had.”

All of the proceeds from the pancake breakfast go directly to The Learning Center of Northeast Arkansas (TLC), a nonprofit school for children and adult development center for those with disabilities. The pancake breakfast provides funds for various needs of the center, from operational costs to supplies and equipment that might not otherwise be available to the center.

With this pancake breakfast we hope TLC can have whatever they need to help (them) grow and learn,” said Henderson. Henderson knows personally the impact TLC can have on the special needs children of Northeast Arkansas.

“My little brother, David, went to TLC for a while; they got him prepped and ready to go to school,” said Henderson. “Maybe this is my way of giving back for what they did for him and my family.” Henderson began helping with the pancake breakfast after joining the Masonic Lodge four years ago at just 21 years old. He was first trained on working the sausage grill.

“There’s a secret to cooking the sausage,” he said. “Once I mastered that secret, I moved on to helping with other parts of the breakfast. As Gary and Ernest were getting older and in failing health, the younger guys had to step up to help more.” Henderson began to help sell tickets and soon found himself
helping in all parts of the breakfast.

“Without every single one of my brothers and every person buying tickets, we wouldn’t be able to do this,” said Henderson. “Gary and Ernest put all of this into motion. I’m just following their steps and following what they did.”

One goal Henderson has been working toward since taking over the operations of the breakfast is to secure more donors and lower cost on their food items.

“If we can get things donated like milk, orange juice and other drinks, that’s more we can give straight to TLC,” said Henderson. Henderson has also been using publicity about the breakfast as an opportunity to educate the public about the Jonesboro Masonic Lodge, which was founded in 1859, and about its mission in the community.

“One of the things we want is for the public to know we are here,” said Henderson. “I think a lot of people don’t even know there are Freemasons (in Jonesboro) and we believe strongly in our community. We are here to help, especially the children. … We always help kids; all of our fundraising is (centered) around kids. We don’t ever benefit from it.”

The lodge also does a pancake breakfast in the fall to help with other community organizations and is looking at doing other projects in the near future such as a fishing derby. Henderson, now 25, also hopes that hearing about the work of the Freemasons will help draw in others like him who are in their 20s and 30s.

“We don’t have much of a young base,” said Henderson. “There is a generation gap between the older members and those of us who are younger. The more we get in the lodge, the more we are able to do for our community. I wish we had more (younger members), but that comes with time.”

The pancake breakfast team begins their morning at 3 a.m., with four on the sausage grill, two making bacon, two mixing pancake batter, two flipping pancakes, one pouring syrup, two processing to-go orders and one working the drink table. Members are also on hand to clear tables, refill drinks, take tickets and money at the door and visit with guests.

The cost of the breakfast is just $5 per person, and children 6 and under eat free. Orders can also be picked up, and Henderson said those with takeout orders can bypass the line and grab their order to go.

Henderson estimates that they make around 5,000 plate-sized pancakes, 3,000 pieces of sausage and more than 10,000 strips of bacon during the breakfast.

“That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it sure seems like it,” he said. “We sell between 1,000 and 1,500 tickets, and every person eats three to five pancakes, so that’s actually probably about right. I don’t touch sausage or pancakes much throughout the year because I get my fill the first weekend of May.”

The 25th Annual Tidwell-Coleman Pancake Breakfast will be held on May 3 from 6 a.m. to noon at the Jonesboro Masonic Lodge, located at 2206 West Washington Ave. Tickets can be purchased at the door or by calling Henderson at 897-6384.