Meet the organization behind the Apple Festival’s pickles

NILES — The Four Flags Area Apple Festival may be best known for the fruit in its name, but the women of Psi Iota Xi’s Zeta Theta chapter have made pickles an infamous food at the festival over the past decade.

When attendees entered the arts and crafts vendor section of the fair this past weekend, they were greeted by the women of the service organization, which hosts the arts and crafts, and their pickles — 80 gallons of them if someone stopped by early enough.

Psi Iota Xi sold the pickles and gave all profits to the numerous area charities it supports. The total donation amount was still being calculated at the time of publication, but its weekend earnings will add on to the $14,000 raised so far this year.

At Psi Iota Xi’s meeting a few days before the events, many members said the pickles were famous among festival-goers, and they usually sell out before the event ends.

The idea to sell pickles came about in an attempt to set Psi Iota Xi apart, said Lesley Bookout, a 52-year member of the Niles chapter.

“Somebody in the program had the recipe originally, and it was unique and was relatively simple to do and was something that nobody else was doing,” she said. “Everybody else was doing cheese balls and selling flowers.”

Members would not share their recipe, but they did share their pickles’ informal slogan: “Sweet with a little kick at the end.”

Some of Psi Iota Xi’s members said they were drawn to the organization not because of the pickles’ flavor, but because of the reason for selling the pickles.

Psi Iota Xi was founded by a group of Muncie, Indiana high school girls in 1892 who wanted to help the arts. Their mission has stayed the same and has since spread to 139 chapters in five states since.

Niles’ chapter supports efforts such as art therapy, free community art, art shows, movies at Niles’ Riverfront Park, the Niles Summer Concert Series, district libraries and the Apple Festival’s arts and crafts vendors.

Bookout said her organization’s focus on art has taken special importance as of late, as some school districts across the country cut or stagnate arts funding.

“Once they stopped doing it in schools, we felt that there was a need for it, and we were amazed at how many areas [there were],” she said.

Service extends past the arts, too. Members have raised funds for the Hunter Ice Festival in Niles, Ferry Street Resource Center, a center for grieving children and the Great Lakes Burn Camp.

President Tricia Bookout said her mother-in-law, Lesley Bookout, drew her into Psi Iota Xi, but its service focus has kept her part of it. She particularly enjoys getting together with other members and purchasing Christmas items for low-income families.

Lesley enjoys the sisterhood that the sorority-turned-women’s organization brings.

“A lot of what we do, why we belong, is a sisterhood,” she said. “It’s a chance to meet and visit with women outside of your job, outside of being a mother. You get to have adult conversations with women, and you know that what you do does great good in the community. It’s very satisfying.”

Women interested in joining Zeta Theta chapter can call Lesley directly at (269) 591-0265 or by emailing her at lesley.bookout@att.net.

News

Niles assisted living facility celebrates reopening after COVID-19 restrictions lifted

Berrien County

COVID-19 UPDATE: Michigan reports 598,014 cases, 15,670 deaths

Berrien County

Niles man sentenced for armed robbery

Brandywine Education

Brandywine Middle/High School announces remote learning through Friday

Dowagiac

Honor Credit Union to host contact-free community shred day in Dowagiac

Buchanan

Buchanan High School has remote day due to teacher shortage

News

Niles Police Log: Feb. 26 – March 3

Education

Edwardsburg Public Schools closed due to staff absences

Cass County

Cassopolis man rescued from Saddlebag Lake

News

Niles graduate retiring after 50 years with American Airlines

Cass County

County health department announces 1,500 COVID-19 vaccine appointments for ages 65 and older

Business

Wounded Minnow owner reacts to proposal to extend curfew, community support amid pandemic

Cass County

Two sentenced through Cass County’s Adult Treatment Court

Dowagiac

New Dowagiac police officers ready to serve community

Dowagiac

Dowagiac city manager provides update to Rotary

Cass County

Dowagiac man heading back to jail

Berrien County

Berrien, Cass businesses awarded Michigan Small Business Survival grants

Education

Eastside Connections seventh, eighth graders finish Black History Month virtual museum

Edwardsburg

Ontwa Township installs dry hydrants

Education

EPS foundation awards physical education teacher $2,500

Cass County

Cass County Board of Commissioners to return to in-person meetings

Giving

Niles Service League’s annual Bundle-A-Buddy fundraiser kicks off on Monday

Buchanan

One Buchanan to host free online mental health forum on COVID-19 isolation, depression

Berrien County

COVID-19 UPDATE: Berrien, Cass counties report new COVID-19 deaths