SHABBONA – The first meal, which consisted of chicken, cost a quarter.
Of course, that was in 1893. Grover Cleveland was in the White House, there were 44 states in the Union and Charles and Frank Duryea had just built the first gas-propelled automobile in the United States.
Last Thursday, the Shabbona United Church of Christ served its 119th Turkey Dinner, which cost $10 for adults and $5 for children. Other than the change from chicken to turkey, not a lot has changed in the annual fundraiser for the church, which has become a huge community event.
“To have that run of continuity is amazing,” church pastor Jim Allen said, adding that some families come from other states to the event, which is always held the week before Thanksgiving. “We are kind of famous for our turkey dinner.”
According to Karen Knappmeyer, kitchen co-chairman with Peggy Fitzpatrick, the church served 775 dinners, with approximately 500 carry-outs and the rest who ate in the church basement. Nancy Espe was take-out chairman and Audra Boehne, dinner chairman.
To feed so many, the church used 36 Ho-Ka turkeys – which averaged 25 pounds a bird and were delivered at strategic intervals throughout the four-hour dinner – and 120 donated pies of various kinds.
Knappmeyer said some of the food, like the dressing, had to be made the day before while the carrots, cranberries and gravy were done that day. There were so many pies, she said, the women began slicing them seven hours before the dinner began.
“It’s a fun event to help out,” Knappmeyer said. “Everyone (in the church) gets involved. ...I am always surprised at the number of people who show up (to help) without being called.”
One volunteer, Beth Hanson, said a lot of the volunteers just naturally do the same jobs every year.
“It’s such a unifying experience,” she said, pointing out that all ages get involved. “You love to see the little ones working with the older ones. They are all working together.”
One of the longest-serving volunteers is Joyce Rueff. She has been helping for more than 50 years.
“I started out waiting on tables when I was 12,” she said. “I’ve done about every task there is to do.”
Her brother-in-law, Verle Rueff, has been involved almost as long.
“I’ve been married (to a SUCC member) for 45 years, so that’s how long I’ve been doing this,” he said, chuckling. “But it’s a lot of fun.”