It has been 100 years since a group of precocious young students at St. Joseph Church School launched the genesis of one of the most wondrous and tantalizing shows in Arkansas.

From a simple concept — the sale of needlework made by the students and their church school sisters in 1912 — the St. Joseph bazaar, as its name evolved, matured into a fabulous enterprise for food, fun and fellowship. Money making to support Catholic education became the vital by-product.

Today its flea market ranks as the most notable of its genre in the state and many consider the venture suitable for inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records. It houses a humongous array of collectibles plus an untold number of mundane items.

It has been suggested the flea market may be the granddaddy of such initiatives in the state, its abundance of "stuff" luring thousands of people to its doors in its Catholic province.

The growth of the flea market has been astounding, surpassing even the fondest hopes of its benefactors. A. L. Hambuchen, a St. Joseph Church stalwart, once said: "You wouldn’t believe how great the market has grown

over the years. Our people could not handle the volume. We needed a full-time person to run it."

To say that the flea market has changed the complexion of the bazaar is putting it mildly.

It is the biggest income producer of the bazaar, finding tremendous support from people of Conway and others who find the lure of the market overpowering. The bazaar, in its first accounting report in 1917, showed some $646 was taken in. Since that humble beginning, $10,000 was netted in 1961, $105,000 in 199l and 287,000 in 2001. Some $231,000 was banked in 2002. Since that point in time, the bazaar has earned well in excess of that amount.

Many individuals have been faithful patrons, but none more devoted to the bazaar since its beginning than the late Monica Strack. Miss Monica, as she was called affectionately was there for the first show in 1912. She was a 6-year-old tyke, freshly arrived in Conway with her family, when she, as a new Catholic student, came upon youngsters of the parish offering needlepoint, crochet and other handcrafts for sale. They were launching the first Catholic fundraiser.

Reminiscing, she was quoted as saying: ‘I was excited in 1912 and I’m excited now." The event continued to energize Miss Monica throughout the years, and her sense of excitement and wonder never abated until her death in 2009.

The genesis of the bazaar and a compendium of facts about the phenomenon are delineated in a book titled, "A Lasting Tradition" - St. Joseph School Bazaar 1912-2011, authored by St. Joseph parishioners, Robert D. Hoyt, Alphonse M. Hiegel, Mary A. Hiegel and Carolyn A. Henze, in which a plethora of informative notations is published.

The 2012 bazaar commences Thursday, August 2 and runs through Saturday August 4. The midway of games and events and specialty foods will have its sway on Thursday and Friday.

On Friday, a spaghetti dinner with several eye-catching side dishes will be served to adults for $11, and children from 5 to 12 years of age will be served for $6 each.

Box lunches to go, featuring the same kind of viands, will highlight the food offering on Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Homemade deserts may be added to the boxes for an additional $1.

These offerings have been a specialty of the bazaar for many seasons with business houses in the city making enormous purchases.

The old fashioned midway, slated for the grounds of the church kicks off Thursday and Friday at 5:30 p.m. It lives up to its billings with many games for kids and a supply of diversions for adults. The new "old" country store returns with an abundance of groceries, gifts and raffle items, all set to the accompaniment of music entertainment by Andrea Eades, Trey Perry and Jimmy Lee Kingsbury.

Incidentally, the midway has had its rare and curious moments. One money-maker was a "mouse stand" that also was designed to titillate. Old timers recall that it was a contraption which contained a circular, wooden top with holes cut in it. A wild mouse would be turned loose on the top and whichever numbered hole he ducked into brought a prize for the lucky holder of the number. It was suggested that wild mice worked best since tame critters were lazy and uncooperative.

It wasn’t long before the game was shutdown at the behest of the Humane Society.

The bazaar on Saturday will arouse much curiosity with silent and live auctions and the delivery of the grand prize, a 2013 Jeep Wrangler. The lucky winner will emerge from the thousands of players who purchased raffle tickets in hundreds of locations up to the time of the auction.

The flea market — ah, the flea market! — is where scores of people prowl the dusty bins and enclaves driven by the happy notion of finding a bargain, sometimes a surprising treasure. There have been times when money was found in the mountain of shoes, books, and clothing. The abundance has delivered up old coins of historic value. Old newspapers that are the collector’s delight have often been found.

It has been said that the bazaar is a ministry though which the parish expresses its commitment to being a living, caring, joy filled people dedicated to the growth of God’s kingdom and the living of the Gospel.