Jeanette-Ploof-and-Margaret-JohnsoFrontn    If you sniff the air in Little Falls any Thursday morning you’re apt to catch the scent of Royal Spice Cake Donuts. Follow your nose and it will lead you to the senior center on 7th Street.
Once the site of the Kiewel Brewery, the aromas on the air have changed considerably since the brewery was demolished in 1983. Some of the bricks from the old building were used in the new senior center. A year after construction was complete, board member Ed Schwitalla suggested the donut fundraiser. The scent of fermentation was replaced with that of deep fried donuts.
Every Thursday morning, about 2:30 a.m., Walter Prokop rises and heads to the senior center. He gets things started, and by 4 a.m., other volunteers amble in with sleepy eyes and willing hearts. From 4  until 6 a.m. donut batter is mixed and the two “robot” fryers burp donuts into hot oil. They sizzle and brown, flip over and crawl up the conveyors. The automated system has simplified the process from what it was nearly three decades ago.
An ideal team of nine people mix, fry and frost in the kitchen. Donuts are dipped in chocolate, maple or vanilla frosting. Others are left plain, dusted with sugar or spiced up with cinnamon. Leaving the kitchen, the donuts are boxed by another team of four people who fill orders and box assortments for donut lovers who stop in over the next few hours. The boxes are stamped “Fresh from the Senior Center, Little Falls.”
After the frenzied activity, conversation and laughter in the kitchen is over for the morning, the team gathers for cups of coffee and bites of misshapen, accidently double-dipped or otherwise imperfect donuts.
Norma Swanson has spearheaded the donut crew for the last 12 years. “We make about 200 dozen each Thursday,” she said, sitting only a moment before getting back to work, overseeing the filling of orders and the selling of the weekly output.
“We made 893 dozen in one month,” added Prokop, who along with Brian Burgardt, runs the mixers and “robots.” Leftovers are donated to the care center or sold the next day for half price.
“We have two crews,” explained Swanson. “Each crew works two Thursdays in a row and then have two weeks off.” Teresa Smalley and Chris Chock also work every Thursday along with Prokop and Swanson.
Many people have helped over the 27 years of this successful fundraising project. Swanson is ready to pass her job on to someone else. “We need more volunteers” is a statement echoed by many. It might be a volunteer job, but everyone is rewarded with donuts. “People of any age can come and help out; they don’t even have to be members of the senior center,” said Swanson.
Senior Center Executive Secretary Kathy Burgardt said it’s a challenge to get enough volunteers, but the project is the best fundraiser the center has. “I hear lots of positive comments.”
In addition to the donuts, the center offers a pancake breakfast once a month. The goal of raising $18,750 for roof repairs, through fundraisers and donations, was reached recently.
The Little Falls senior population is fortunate that their building, owned by the city but leased for a modest amount, requires only maintenance expenses. The city also gives $12,400 in annual support. Activities include weekday meals offered through Lutheran Social Services; exercise classes and games of rummy on Mondays; bridge, whist and pool tournaments on Tuesdays; exercise and bingo on Wednesdays; and cribbage and pool tournaments on Thursdays. Various other events and parties augment the regular schedule.
Anyone interested in learning to make donuts, join the senior center, or just generally get involved can call Kathy at 320-632-8009. They don’t have email so a phone call will have to do. Or, follow your nose some Thursday morning and find someone to talk to over coffee and donuts.