BY NICOLE KIEFERT | PHOTO BY DAVID SZYMANSKI
Currently entering its 55th year, Port Washington’s Port Fish Day boasts the world’s largest single-day outdoor fish fry, making it a favorite of Wisconsinites seeking the freshest of fish fries, plus people who love giving back to the community and, of course, the legions of volunteers who are passionate about making the annual event so successful.
Fish Day raises money for up to nine local charitable organizations while drawing in tens of thousands of people to enjoy live music, delicious food, a car show and craft festival, and other family-friendly activities. Here, Fish Day President Mary Monday — the most enthusiastic volunteer — tells MKE Lifestyle about her work-life balance, what people can expect at the July 20th event and more.
How did you first get involved in Fish Day?
My uncle was one of the inventors of the Port Fish Day Parade, so when we got old enough to walk through the bridge, they would dress us up as clowns and put signs on our back and we’d get to go through the parade. So that’s how I got started — as a clown. As we got older we got to help with the parade, so all five of us have been involved all of our lives. All of us have served in some capacity on the Fish Day committee.
How do you balance having a full-time job with serving as president of a nonprofit?
I don’t sleep — very little sleep, depending on what time of year it is. It’s a balance because, you know, work is work, but passion is passion. You can be passionate about your job, but it’s different than being passionate about a completely, one hundred percent [volunteer-run organization]. I don’t manage people. I do lead them, but they are all their own people. We sit down together to go over things. So it’s a lot of phone calls, a lot of emails — and emails you can handle during the day.
What new things can patrons look forward to this year?
We don’t have a carnival. What we’re bringing in is called “Bounce My House.” I think it’s going to be great. … There’ll also be more craft beers available throughout the realms. And the music is all different again, per the usual.
Besides the charitable aspect, how does Fish Day impact the community?
The tourism impact is huge. The amount of people we bring into the county itself, the hotels are booked. Our hotels for Fish Day have a two-night minimum. … When you put 30, 40, 50 thousand people into the city, the impact is big. And for recognition of the city. It’s a premier event. It has been for 55 years. A lot of people know about Fish Day.
What is the farthest someone has traveled for Fish Day?
People come back from all over for Fish Day, if they grew up in the area. A lot of people plan family reunions or class reunions around the date, because they can have their reunion on Friday night, then go to Fish Day. ... People refer to it as a holiday. They call the night before Fish Day “Fishmas Eve.”
Fish fries are everywhere in Wisconsin. Is there anything you add to make the Fish Day fry unique?
We do stick with the traditional Wisconsin fish fry. We did, a number of years ago, add a cheese curd [option], because it was just so asked for, and it’s still a very good seller.
How can aspiring volunteers get in touch?
They can message us on Facebook [@PortFishDay] or they can email me at email@example.com. … Either way, they can learn a little bit more, even if they just want to shadow somebody.
My Five Favorite Things!
1 Cooking with or for family and friends
2 Pontooning while at the up-north cabin
3 Helping people succeed
4 Event planning and execution
5 Eating fish and chips at Port Fish Day on the third Saturday of every July! MKE