Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Angela Organ is organizer behind Berne Wood-fired Pizza

Angela (Derby) Organ has always called Berne, home. In fact, her daughter's middle name is Berne!

She grew up on her family's dairy farm with two siblings and was active in basketball, SADD, AFS, band, and choir at Triton High School. She was also involved with the Dodge County 4-H program and the county fair.

As a high school senior, she participated in the Dodge County Dairy Princess contest, and represented this region at the State Fair for the annual Minnesota Princess Kay contest. Living on a dairy farm, her family would take a short trip up north to do some fishing or boating, as they could not be gone for very long. She has fond memories of her childhood in the country. 

After graduating from Triton, Angela attended the University of Wisconsin-River Falls where she earned her BA in Broad English education. She later added her master’s degree at St. Mary's University in Teacher Education and Professional Development.

After college, Angela married Erick, who she met in kindergarten. She said there were only seven boys in their class, so the selection was quite limited, but she picked out Erick at a young age! They moved to Watertown, where Angela taught for three years, and Erick worked at a local bank. The couple knew they wanted to move closer to family, so when an English teaching position opened at Pine Island High School, Angela accepted, and Erick joined the family business and began working at Heritage Bank in West Concord. 

Angela primarily teaches college courses through Southwest Minnesota State University in English, communications, and education. She is the advisor of two clubs at Pine Island High School: Toward Zero Deaths and Aspiring Educators. After teaching more than 20 years, she's convinced she chose the right profession.

Volunteering has always been a passion for Angela. As a member of the Zwingli UCC (Berne Church) she took part in the annual Berne Swissfest, which was held for many decades, and one of her roles was the program MC. When the church started to look for something to replace this event, she suggested building a wood-fired pizza oven and hosting concerts.

This is how Berne Wood-Fired Pizza came to fruition. She wasn’t sure if members would go along with this idea, but they decided to give it a try. Congregants built the oven and held their first events in August and September of 2012. The next summer the Wednesday night events moved to the present schedule of June through August, and it is in the 13th season.

For the first several summers one band played, but now they have an opening group starting at 5 p.m., a second group at 6:30 p.m., and will wrap up by 8 p.m.

As one of the volunteers, Angela lines up the bands with a goal of diversifying the line-up with varied genres and new groups each year. Bands fill out an application each fall, and the selection process is typically completed by October for the next season. The bands do not get paid, except they do get a pizza. Guests are encouraged to tip the bands in appreciation of their time and talent in one of the three tip jars located across the grounds. 

Angela is also responsible for lining up the 800 volunteers that are needed to make hundreds of pizzas in just three hours each Wednesday night. She starts that process in January and works with many non-profit groups to fill the positions. Each week 60 volunteers are needed. She commented that even though they have a smaller church with around 80 active members, they have been very willing to volunteer their time each week.

Angela creates the advertising with the help of Pine Island students who take part in her Public Relations course. These students write press releases and create the social media content for Berne as part of their work experience. Many of these students also volunteer each Wednesday at Berne Wood-Fired Pizza, gaining customer service and sales experience.

There will be various special events each week such as monthly classic car cruise-ins, Brewfest, artisan markets, and children's events, etc. Eating pizza and attending a concert in Berne has become a summer tradition for many.

Each Wednesday evening there are typically between 1,000 to 1,500 visitors. Many people come from the local area, but they get folks from Rochester and the metro. All proceeds made at Berne Wood-Fired Pizza support the church and local nonprofit organizations, including those that volunteer at Berne.

What does it take to pull off a pizza night in Berne? The food crew starts their work on Tuesday. They will normally make 450 – 500 pizzas each week, so it's a big job getting the kitchen and food prepared. On Wednesday morning, the grounds crew arrives early to help set up the yard games and get parking signs out. The two ovens are started, and they need to be supplied with wood all day long to keep the fire hot. By the early afternoon, a sound company sets up the speakers, lights, and sound control board. By 4 p.m., both volunteers and guests start to roll in. After the event has ended, volunteers are ready to wrap up in another hour. A cleanup crew comes in on Thursday morning to deep clean the kitchen.

A few times each summer, church members bake bread in the still warm ovens on Thursday mornings. 

This summer, Berne is excited to host "Coffee in the Country," a new event taking place every other Friday from June 14-August 23. It will run from 8:30 – 11 a.m.. People are encouraged to head to Berne to enjoy a relaxing summer morning. Bring a lawn chair and grab a cup of coffee, cocoa, or tea and pastries for sale from Trail Creek Coffee Roasters, Pappas’s Roast Coffee Trailer, and Rise Above Bakery Company. Music will be played across the grounds through a speaker system, and many table and yard games as well as children's activities will be onsite for all to enjoy. 

Angela and Erick have two children, Jared and Annika, who are following in their footsteps by attending the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Angela said their family enjoys spending some time at their cabin in Wisconsin where they can do some fishing, boating, and just relaxing. Erick is a deer hunter, and bagged a 13-point buck four years ago, but Angela leaves the hunting adventures to him. They are Vikings and Minnesota sports fans, enjoy playing pickleball, and enjoy taking in concerts, especially to watch new bands that might be a possible future group at Berne. 

Their family has been to several National Parks with Zion and Yellowstone being some of their favorites. They have traveled to several countries in Europe, but her favorite place is Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland, with her Swiss heritage. They have also enjoyed Caribbean cruises. She has Croatia and Malta on her bucket list to visit.

Angela has been a member of the Zwingli United Church of Christ, in Berne, all her life. She is pleased to see her rural church thriving and is proud of how so many are involved with the church projects that help others.

Even though she works a lot of the summer to make Berne Wood-Fired Pizza and Concert Series a reality, she feels her really busy time takes place earlier in the year with the organizing leading up to opening night. I asked since she sees pizzas all summer long if she still enjoys eating pizza, and she said: "We eat Wood-Fired Pizza!"

When Angela is helping on Wednesday evenings, she enjoys talking to those attending, and many people tell her how much they have enjoyed being there.

"What we're doing in Berne is community building,” she said. “We're bringing people together to socialize and have fun while giving back and helping those in need. It's a labor of love that I'm proud to be a part of." 



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