What happens at IHOP doesn't always stay at IHOP. The restaurant chain celebrated its 50th anniversary with an "It Happens at IHOP" contest, asking fans to share favorite memories at the restaurant.

Of the 1,300-plus entries, Carol Mahoney of Kearns was one of five runners-up, winning a $100 IHOP gift card.

Her essay dates back to 1962, when Mahoney was 8 years old and her father, Ken Cooper, was in the Merchant Marines. To feel closer to him, the family would order IHOP dishes to match wherever he happened to be in the world at that time.

"My mom was feeling sad because it was hard having him gone all the time," Mahoney explained in a telephone interview. "It seems strange today, but back in the early '60s, a lady didn't go out to eat on her own. She was trying to stretch her wings a little bit, and because the International House of Pancakes, as it was called back then, was a family restaurant, she felt more comfortable taking us there on her own."

"My dad was a Merchant Marine who was gone 9-10 months out of the year, traveling the high seas and going to distant lands," Mahoney wrote. "It was his job, and it was hard on all of us. My mom usually wasn't comfortable taking us children out to eat alone, but due to the family atmosphere, she always felt comfortable and safe taking us to the Buena Park, Calif., International House of Pancakes.

"In the summer of 1962, I was 8 years old. One day I received a letter from my dad telling us he was docked in Hawaii. I read the letter to mom, and she suggested we celebrate our letter with a visit to IHOP and get the Hawaiian pancakes. I remember thinking my dad was closer that day, so I asked my mother if we couldn't travel with dad with IHOP's 'international' menu.

"That summer with every letter we received from my dad we dressed up in our Sunday best and went to IHOP. We tried every dish that matched his location. And thanks to IHOP, we had a lot more fun that summer."

From job interviews, first dates, marriage proposals and wedding receptions, IHOP has apparently served up more than pancakes over the past 50 years. Grand prize winner Scott Reader of Maple Shade, N.J., received free pancakes for life with this essay:

"I'm a woodshop instructor at a private school for special needs kids, K-12. We walk our students down the street to have a class in life skills at IHOP.

"We teach them how to give their name when they first enter, read the menu, place an order, how to act in the store and pay the bill. These are vital skills if they want to succeed on their own as they enter the adult world. All IHOP employees are familiar with the program and they handle our kids with the utmost kindness and respect.

"Recently taking advantage of a nice spring day, we ventured out to IHOP for our class. When we approached the restaurant, we ran into a flock of geese too lazy to complete their migration to Florida. To our surprise, these birds can be very aggressive and the mess they leave on the lawn is very unpleasant.

"When we found out that IHOP couldn't encourage the geese to leave, we put our class to action. For three days, the kids traced, cut and shaped a German shepherd-looking dog out of wood. The kids affectionately named him Rooty after the IHOP mascot. A few days after 'Rooty' was placed at the restaurant, the geese were gone!"

E-mail: [email protected]