After 35 years of faithfully serving Wharton and the surrounding towns as chairman of the Feast of Sharing, Former Precinct 1 Wharton County Commissioner Leroy Dettling handed the role to his successor, Richard Zahn, and died a short time later on Dec. 19.
Like the Community wide Thanksgiving Feast in El Campo, the future of Wharton’s effort remains uncertain with COVID pandemic.
“This year, the pandemic was still a concern,” said Knights of Columbus spokesman Michael Hubenak, adding the 1,200 meals distributed in the Wharton area this year were H-E-B already prepared microwavable meals.
Dettling served on the Wharton County Commissioners Court from 2008 to 2016 as the Precinct 1 representative. Fellow feast volunteer Zahn replaced Dettling as the Precinct 1 commissioner as well.
Dettling’s efforts to help his community go back decades before his public office. As the Wharton Knights of Columbus Council No. 3262 grand knight in 1986, Dettling was challenged by Fr. Sean Donahue to hold a project benefiting the community. That project became the Feast of Sharing, which originally served 500 plates of food.
When the feast first began, Momma John’s Restaurant, H-E-B and Tom Pierce Bar-B-Que from El Campo, provided much of the food and labor. Now, H-E-B is the main sponsor.
“The feast became a community affair,” Dettling said a week before his death. “We baked cornbread in Hungerford for the dressing and baked turkeys in the kitchen at Sivells Elementary (in Wharton).”
Volunteers eventually joined from organizations all around East Wharton County.
A Wharton native, Dettling graduated from Wharton High School in 1972 and later attended Wharton County Junior College, followed by Texas A&M University.
He began his career in Dallas as a salesman, then returned to Wharton and worked for several years at Texasgulf Sulphur Company in Newgulf. He also worked as a security guard for Gulf Coast Medical Center and South Texas Nuclear Project before being voted into office.
The Wharton KCs honored Dettling’s service recently.
“It takes a lot of time and effort to have everything come together to make the Feast of Sharing a success,” Hubenak said. “It is a four-day ordeal and Leroy has been the one who has always secured the donations, made the timeline of when everything was to be done, and made it all come together.”
Dettling’s public service went beyond commissioners court and the KCs. He was an avid member of the Wharton Lion’s Club, where he served in office for several years.
“He was a very important part of our annual Lions Club Pancake Supper every March. His knowledge of food and supply purchasing, estimating the crowd, and food preparation were critical in the success of the suppers every year,” Lion’s Club spokesman Jeffrey Blair said.
“I met Leroy in 2009,” said Bill Wallace, editor and publisher of the Wharton Journal-Spectator. “Quickly I realized he was a behind-the-scenes guy. He did so many good things for our community and he never took credit for his actions. He will be missed.”
“The Feast of Sharing has been successfully overseen by Leroy,” Zahn said. “We would like to continue this for him, although we will have to see what takes place in the future.”
Services for Dettling were held Thursday, December 23, 2021 at Holy Family Catholic Church in Wharton with internment following at Evergreen Memorial Park Cemetery, Wharton. In lieu of other remembrances, the family asks that donations be made to Holy Cross.