The Wabash Cemetery Association was founded in 1920 by a group of determined ladies who saw the need for an organization to provide funds to maintain the cemetery. The custom at that time was for the community to gather a few days before Memorial Day to clean the cemetery of the unkempt accumulated mat of rough grass, weeds, and briars. But within a few months this same condition existed again. After much discussion, they decided to hold a chowder. The date was set for sometime in October. Beginning that autumn and continuing without fail, a chowder for the cemetery has been held. Later, the Saturday before Labor Day became the permanent date for the chowder.
The first chowder was held at the eastern edge of the cemetery. One or two kettles were used, each containing 50 or 60 gallons. The chowder was prepared and served all on the same day. Serving was confined to late afternoon, and people brought their own bowls and also any other food that was needed. The chowder was sold in 5 and 10 cent servings. This first venture for fund raising was a success and started the tradition that has lasted to the present.
There have been many changes over the years. In 1949 the Orio Community Center built a Quonset-type building on the south side of the road across from the church and cemetery. Since then the chowders have been held adjacent to this building. Ten or twelve kettles, which total approximately 500 gallons, are now used. The preparations are begun weeks ahead of the chowder date. The ingredients have remained much the same, with the exception of macaroni and rice that the old timers used when the vegetables were scarce. Today, in addition to chowder, fish sandwiches, hamburgers, ice cream, beverages, cakes and pies are sold.
In the early 70's the Cemetery Association received a donation from a will which made it self-sufficient. Since then the chowder proceeds have been used for the church's mission outreach, the cemetery as needed, and improvements of the chowder facilities. More permanent tables have been built and a shed with removable walls has been constructed to house the big chowder kettles. This shed has electric paddles installed above the kettles to stir the chowder at a continuous speed. Propane is used for heat instead of wood to cook up to 1200 gallons of chowder, all of which is usually gone by dark. The serving area has been greatly enlarged and an expanded and shaded work area for chowder preparation has been provided.