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Burnam, Daniels are modern-day 'fishers of men'

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By Panzi Blackwell

To sit in on a casual conversation with Dale “Pete” Burnam and Glen “Whitey” Daniels, one would think the two were highly incompatible.

As they volley insults back and forth, however, it soon becomes clear they actually share a close, brotherly-love-like friendship and have the utmost respect for one another.

When not harassing one another, they are quick with compliments, credits and tributes to the other.

They are, actually, kindred spirits, which explains why a compassion for five children they shared almost two decades ago grew into the Methodist Men’s large coats and shoes ministry that has blessed so many young people in Fayette County.

While this worthy project, in itself, may not be so unusual, their manner of raising funds to purchase the new shoes and coats in time for Christmas every year is.

Meet Pete Burnam and Whitey Daniels, who cast their fishing lines into the water all summer long to provide coats and shoes for children at Christmas-time. Modern-day “fishers of men,” they fish from their boat four to five hours a day, four or five days a week.

The First Line was Cast…

18 years ago when Daniels and Burnam saw a need and provided five coats for five children at Christmas time.

Burnam said, “Many years ago, when this started, there were five children. We didn’t have any money – the Methodist Men – to do this, but we bought coats and shoes for five children.

“Then Glen said, ‘Let’s do this big-time. Let’s do something worthwhile.’ So we decided to have a fish fry. “We didn’t really plan to catch the fish ourselves, but we had pretty good luck fishing that summer, so we fried our own fish,” Burnam said, turning the conversation to Daniels.

“Back up a little, Pete,” Daniels said, “The first time, Duane Luallen asked us to put on a fish fry. We had to pay back the Methodist women $200, because we had to borrow the money from them.

“So we had enough money (from the fish fry) to pay off the women’s $200 and to buy the five coats. It just mushroomed from there,” Daniels said.

The First United Methodist Men’s Fish Fry mushroomed into the biggest fish fry in town, including organizational fish fries. They feed more than 500 people in the Wesley Hall at First United Methodist Church in Vandalia.

Burnam took up the story, “We went over and got the coats and shoes, and they weren’t wrapped then.”

Local individuals began gift-wrapping the coats and shoes for them. “Now, Wal-Mart wraps them for us,” Burnam said.

As the ministry grew, so did the need for bigger fish fries and more fish.

“We were fishing four or five days a week, but we don’t anymore,” Daniels said.

“It was always fun, but then it got to be where it was really work,” Burnam added. “It got to be really hard work, because we had to have real good luck every day we went, instead of catching maybe a dozen or 25 fish. That wouldn’t get the job done.”

“Glen had two deep-freezers at his house,” Burnam said, “and we would catch them, clean them, wash them and put them in the deep-freeze.

“Glen knew just exactly how much that went into a gallon carton and how much it would take you to feed 500 people, and that’s what we tried to do,” Burnam said.

Certain people now help them, and the fish is fried outside the church. Daniels said that he and Jack Kidd fried the fish inside the church for two years when they first started, but were requested to quit or move the fish frying and the odor outside.

“So we got a little burner and moved outside. Now we have commercial fryers and more help,” Daniels said.

After being involved in the ministry for so long, Burnam said, they are looking to turn the project over to a younger crowd.

The Ministry & the Teachers

The two friends are serious about the coats and shoes ministry.

Burnam said, “It’s really gratifying to see the end results, when the kids get the coats and shoes. We don’t want to know who gets them – that’s none of our business.

“The teachers are the key to this thing. They give us names or number, and size, boy or girl. They know who needs these things. They have an inside rule – ‘We don’t allow pictures to be taken.’”

“The fish fry doesn’t make enough to buy that many coats and shoes,” Daniels said, “It is the donations from the people that makes out fish fries successful and our project worthwhile and affordable.

“When we give them the coats and shoes, they try them on to make sure they fit. If they don’t, we take them back and exchange them.“

They also wanted to share that a lot of the fish fry food, cooking oil and money for the fry are donated by caring people of the community.

They gave 286 coats last year and plan to buy more than 300 coats this year.

A lot of fish has been caught by the two friends, and they plan to continue “tolerating” each other in a small boat on Carlyle Lake, to ensure that as many Fayette County children as possible have brand new warm coats and shoes every Christmas.

They cannot easily be mistaken as Santa Claus’ elves, but certainly, the Methodist men, “Pete” Burnam and “Whitey” Daniels are fishers of men, and blessings to the children.