The Fish Fry King

Mon, February 19, 2018
Welcome to another installment of our on-going series "Intersting People".  Each month or so, we highlight portions of the vast history and experience we have within our midst.  This month..."The Fish King"

You’ll instantly know from the title who the next person in the series of articles about interesting people at Friendswood Methodist Church, unless you’re from another planet, or have only been around the church for a few weeks.  Maurice Estlinbaum and Fish Frys are synonymous terms for as long as most of us can remember.  He came by his interest in fishing honestly from his childhood days in Venezuela, South America during his father’s refinery construction assignment.

Born Dec. 23, 1940 in Palestine, Texas, Anderson County, the family moved to live in Eagle Lakes, Texas with grandparents during his fathers tenure in the service.  His mother taught school in Eagle Lakes.  Then a two year stay in South America while Maurice was young afforded him the opportunity to learn to love fishing.  In Houston in the 1950’s, he finished his schooling at Bonner Elementary, Jackson Junior High, and Pasadena High while the new South Houston High School was being built.  Maurice finished at South Houston, and had some impressive classmates like Don Meador (former Sr. Pastor at FMC) and John Morgan ( Sr. Pastor at Sagemont Church ).  Maurice says he frequently reminds them that “ I knew what you were like before you became a Minister”,  but neither can decide if that’s a threat or a compliment.

Maurice’s strong work-ethic and entrepreneurial spirit was cultivated by his father’s dream to own a hardware store, because he always wanted to be in business for himself.  Instead, he purchased and ran an auto supply store.  Maurice found himself engrossed in the family business, and Estlinbaum Auto Supply grew to six stores.  Not having much time to create a social life, Maurice would ask his buddies to fix him up with a nice college girl to date.  And on Dec. 9,1960 he met the love-of-his-life in Cathy, who was his “blind date” .  He says that after the first date, he knew she was “ Mrs. Right”.  Cathy waited until after the second date to determine she was “ Mrs. Always Right” !  They were joined together in God’s covenant of marriage March 17, 1962.   They have two wonderful boys, Raoul ( & wife Kim) living in Corpus Christi, and Ray (& wife Tina ) living in Pearland, and two grandchildren Lauren & Ryan.

Being in business in the community, and interfacing with other businesses resulted in Maurice “knowing everybody”.  His business and personal friendships cultivated over the years flow wide and deep, and some of his business associates introduced him to salt-water fishing in 1972, and he was hooked, literally.  He decided fishing was more fun than work. And although this was not the driving force behind his sale of the auto supply business, he decided in 1981 to divest himself of his stores, and kick back and do something different.  He dappled in real estate some, right here in Friendswood, because  his civic pride and familiarity with the community convinced him Friendswood showed great promise for real estate investments and development.

Cathy and Maurice joined Friendswood Methodist back in 1973, with Tom Holcomb as pastor.  The fledgling congregation, in its original sanctuary ( Mabel Thacker Chapel) was poised for growth with NASA and the space program nearby, but Cathy and Maurice knew that without personal involvement, and participation the church was only as good as the fire-in-her-people.  So they jumped right in and they both dedicated their time, service, funds, and commitments like good Methodists.  Cathy got involved in UMW, women’s Bible studies, and committee work.  And they both served as MYF counselors with the youth.  Maurice has done a tour of duty ( or two)  on Council on Ministries, Trustees, Lay Director and committees too numerous to mention.   Maurice says he has either served in, or been asked to serve in, every lay position in the Church, at one time or another, except choir. And his long time involvement in the Wednesday morning Men’s Bible Study is proof positive of Matthew 4:19 and Mark 1:19 where Jesus promised his followers that He would make them Fishers of Men.

During his service to the Church Maurice discovered how to combine two of his favorite things into worthwhile endeavors to serve others….and the Fish Fry King’s legacy was born. His love of fishing  launched the desire to “fry up a mess o’ fish” to serve the Friendswood Methodist congregation at various Methodist Men’s functions, or the famous Valentine’s Day Banquet that was held for many years, and anticipated and awaited by many. This went on for many years until the growth of the Church and space/facility limitations made it impossible to feed the multitudes ( Jesus didn’t seem to have this problem with his 5000 guests !)  So Maurice shifted gears to a “service” mentality and began having fund-raising fish frys to help various organization in the Church and community.  His most noteworthy annual endeavor is the Hope Village Fish Fry each spring (see last paragraph for more info).  And in addition to the fish fry itself, he donates four to six Fish Fry vouchers to any donor who wants to bid on them at auction for redemption to host a Fish Fry Fund Raiser for their organization later in the year.  With his regularly scheduled annual Fish Frys, and with the randomly scheduled Fish Frys purchased by donors at auction, he says he easily does ten Fish Frys a year, and one of his annual treks is the out-of-town UM Army location.  He says he loves to cook for those young people, because they eat up every crumb and morsel.  

Needless to say, this requires lots of fish…..lots of fishing……and lots of fish catching !  And as he pulls out of his driveway with his boat in tow two or three times a month, he shouts back at Cathy “ Fishing is hard work….but somebody’s got to do it”.  She responds, “What if the fish aren’t bitin’ “, and he replies “ The Lord will provide” as he rolls out of sight.  Most folks ask the question, “How do you catch so many fish?” and Maurice explains that if the Good Lord hadn’t wanted him to catch all the fish he’s caught over the years, He would have had them keep their mouths shut!

In between all the fishing, and Fish Frys, and service to the Church, Maurice takes out time to enjoy some of his other hobbies, Hill Country hunting ( generally turkey), and usually plays in the annual Golf Tournament.  But he is careful to remind folks that he never gets his Fishing, and Hunting, and Golf stories mixed up, because they are all mostly true !  On a serious note, with any remaining spare time, he fills numerous board of director or officer positions with Hope Village, Hometown Bank, The Crossing, and other community committees and positions too numerous to mention.  His honesty and Christian integrity and business acumen make his insight highly sought after.  And as previously mentioned, Maurice knows everybody, and willingly will allow his business associates to likewise bask in the honor of some of his service work ( Fish Frys) by accepting shrimp and oyster donations from the likes of Mickey & Nick Gaido, or meal accompaniments  from Joe Salidino ( from Joes’ Bar-B-Q fame).

In the hallways, foyer, or sanctuary of Friendswood Methodist, you can often find Maurice “working” the congregation…..seeking out old friends, or long time members with his style of a friendly interchange and handshake or kidding around or greeting that can only be described as “irreverent compassion” delivered in a fashion we all know and love to expect from Maurice.  His almost weekly visit with Jean Strouhal starts with the weekly question “ Is it true you are the oldest living charter member here at Friendswood ( inferring she’s the OLDEST female member) “  And she usually is ready for him with her shaking finger, and smile on her face with “ Don’t you say it ! “    Or the common warm greeting and handshake he has for Mike Schmitt ,  “ What’s new MeatHead ! “.

But by the same token, the same irreverently compassionate Maurice will notice a new face or visitor, such as during the holidays when a worried new visiting mother was trying to quite her child during a Christmas service, “ Mam, a crying baby is the happiest sound in our sanctuary…don’t worry a bit about your darling baby making noise.”

Maurice Estlinbaum’s  Fish Fry Ministry is not a ministry of numbers, or biggest catch, or biggest haul, but one of service , sacrifice, benevolence, fellowship, and Christian love.  So if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of one of his Fish Fry serving lines or a barb from his “irreverent compassion” comments, consider yourself Blessed.  Either way, you will be among friends and well-loved.

As promised in this last paragraph, we want to feature and repeat the announcement for the annual Hope Village Fish Fry ( Jack Montgomery & Matt Benson Memorial Fish Fry) held each year to support ( and Harvey repair) Hope Village, the premier facility for developmentally challenged individuals in our community.  Maurice Estlinbalm and his volunteer crew in addition to Hope Village resident and staff volunteers will be serving up fried fish and all the fixins on Sat. March 3, 2018 from 12:00 Noon – 2:30 P.M. at the newer building on the back of the property, FM 2351 @ Hope Village Rd. near Clear Brook High School.   Donate what you care to for each meal, and anonymously deposit in the Donation Jar in the Dining Area.  Dine in or take out.