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Rides, tradition and tasty fundraising

Our Lady of Perpetual Help’s 66th annual Barbecue Fair draws thousands to Newhall church

Posted: September 18, 2010 10:45 p.m.
Updated: September 19, 2010 4:30 a.m.

Samantha Russon, 10, left, and Melanie Lamb, 10, enjoy the ride Sizzler at Our Lady of Perpetual Help’s 66th annual Barbecue Fair in Newhall on Sunday.

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If you could fit a state fair into the back lot of a church, what would it look like?

Answer: The 66th annual Our Lady of Perpetual Help Barbecue Fair.

From Friday to Sunday, thousands of people packed Newhall on the north side of Lyons Avenue at Wayman Street, sampling hot dogs, hamburgers, tacos and scores of other tasty items from food tents that ringed the church lot.

From the buzzing carnival-like rides such as Sizzler and Mega Loop to the blare of thumping dance music for dancers dancing on the dance floor,  it all had the feel of the state fair-sized event.

And, then of course, there was the barbecue.

The annual church fair is held to raise money for building a new church, and if the organizers want it to be a success, they might want to take a lesson from the man running the actual barbecue.

“Barbecue Captain” Peter Aquino was asked to explain the reason his food was so popular Friday night that they ran out of ribs.

“We pray first before cooking,” he said. “And then the Lord provides the ingredient for making it a success.”
The mere mortal behind the fair’s immensely popular sold-out savory barbecue is the man under the towering white chef’s hat at the fair, Erwin Kahulugan.

When pressed about the barbecue’s success, Aquino pointed to Kahulugan and shared some of his recipe.

It involves cutting away just a “bit of the fat,” boiling it with spices including garlic, then putting ribs back into that boiling pot.

The theme for this year’s event was “Route 66” with the official title: “Coming Home to OLPH, Route 66.”

With 66 years of history, the church and its fair are undeniably entitled to wear the crown of tradition in Santa Clarita Valley.

Old-time Western movie stars including William S. Hart and Fox Callahan chomped on barbecue ribs here, back in the day.

And when the city of Santa Clarita, began growing out of its infancy more than 20 years ago, the annual church barbecue had already been flipping burgers for parishioners and their supporters for more than four decades.

Barbecue attendee and volunteer Lillian Boyle has brought her children to the fair since they were babies.

“I like the swings,” said her 9-year-old son, Shane, when asked what he enjoyed most.

His sister Amanda, 12, volunteered this year as a face-painter.

The most requested designs she’s been asked to render on the cheeks of Santa Clarita youngsters? Cupcakes and bees.

Despite the fact that there were already hundreds of people under tents eating, drinking beer, watching young dancers move in 90-degree heat, Lillian Boyle had some advice for the novice.

“Just wait, it’s slow during the day but at night, you won’t be able to move here,” she said.

The force — aside from the divine one noted by Peter Aquino at the barbecue pit — in making the fair happen is the husband and wife team of Gary and Cynthia Gutierrez, who were the official co-chairpersons of the event.

“We’re building our new church,” Cynthia Gutierrez said. “We need to raise $7 million. We’ve raised $3 million since we started two years ago.”

Describing the event and listing as many volunteers as she could, Cynthia had trouble finishing two consecutive sentences, pausing each time, to call out someone’s name, point and remind them of a particular task.

She starts again but stops — this time jumping up and down.

“Oh my God,” she said, spotting to three nuns in brown habits as if they were rock stars.

For 35 years, until 2008, Franciscan sisters ran the church’s schools and taught hundreds of young parishioners.

On Saturday, they returned for a visit.

What they found was a long Santa Clarita tradition still in tact.

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