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Manchester Salmon Bake turns 40

What is for sure is that community spirit has kept the event, and the library, alive for decades.

When setting up for the annual Manchester Salmon Bake, it’s never hard to figure out where the grill goes.

“There’s a divot in the parking lot where we first put the grill because it was so hot it melted the asphalt,” said Carol Campbell with a laugh, explaining that these days the group carefully puts down sand and special bricks before firing up the grill.

Campbell, who serves as treasurer for the Friends of the Manchester Library, was reminiscing this week with other members of the group as they prepared to host the 40th annual fundraising event tomorrow.

“We used to have it on the dock,” said Norma Brady, a longtime member who has done everything from painting furniture to baking cookies to help build and maintain the Manchester Library. “But then we started getting too many people, and didn’t have enough space there anymore.”

And though none of the members would swear on their life that this year indeed marks the 40th salmon bake, they all know for certain they’ve been helping make it happen for years, if not decades. And that each year, it’s a labor of love.

“About a month before, we get frantic and swear ‘This is the last year — we’re never doing another one,’” Campbell said. “But then the day comes and all the people show up and we remember why we do it.”

“We just enjoy it, and we all see people we haven’t seen in a long time,” said fellow volunteer and FOML president Eric Cisney, explaining that while the gathering has become a social mainstay of the community, it began, and still functions, as a fundraiser to keep the library open.

“We own the building, and we pay for the maintenance,” Campbell said, explaining that it costs the FOML about $25,000 a year to run the lights and air-conditioning, clean the carpets and do basic repairs on the building, which is a castle compared to what the library called home 60 years ago.

“It was in a chicken coop,” said Brady, laughing as she recalled how little space there was leftover for people once all the books were stacked inside. “We could only let three people in at a time. There wasn’t enough room to turn around!”

Six years later in 1954, the chicken coop had been torn down and a modular building was in place for the library, set-up and paid for by volunteers and donations, which included the Port of Manchester property it sat on.

In 1976, the library committee officially became the non-profit group known as the FOML and began the process of acquiring a proper building for their beloved library.

Four years later, the group had secured a loan from the Farmers Home Administration, leased the land from the port for $1 a year and cobbled together enough volunteer labor, grant money and community donations to build the library that still stands today.

Perhaps the most impressive feat was still to come, however. In 1986, 34 years ahead of schedule, the FOML had raised enough money though its annual plant sales, salmon bake and other fundraising efforts to pay off the building’s mortgage entirely and hold a burning ceremony.

In 2008, more than 60 years after people were first asked to donate lumber to build shelves, the same spirit that created the library is not only still alive in the volunteers, but has spread to the next generations and infects more community members each year.

Two who became involved recently and were particularly helpful this year were Amy’s On The Bay owners Grant Matsuno and Amy Igloi Matsuno.

“Getting the fish really became an issue this year, and by February we were really worried about being able to find — and afford — enough salmon,” Campbell said, explaining that Matsuno not only helped them secure enough fish through a wholesaler, his business is providing some expert help to cut and portion it.

“The local merchants are really generous,” Brady said, pointing out that her days struggling to have enough green salad for everyone have been over since the Airport Diner began donating its “wonderful” coleslaw to the meal years ago.

Of course, none of this food could be served at all without the “fifty people that just show up to help every year,” Cisney said. “None of this would happen if the group didn’t come on Thursday to set up the grill, or the wood people didn’t show up to split the wood for us, or if the Bow family didn’t come up every year from California to cook for us. That is the only reason it works.”

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