By Alan Sorensen
Nearly 700 Thanksgiving celebrants, about 175 more than last year, took advantage of the free community feed served up for the 18th consecutive year yesterday.
Home delivered meals, 338 in all, went out the door well before the sit-down portion of the meal began at noon. By the time the last pan was washed and shelved and the mop bucket emptied, 358 people had broken bread together in the St. Jude Social Hall.
The grand total came to 696 diners, including many of the more than 100 volunteers who helped put it on.
Through it all, three names stood out. Olive Watson and Marian Buell set up the dining room Wednesday with some help. They also sliced up the pumpkin pies and put the wedges in to-go boxes for Thursday morning delivery. Then they returned Thursday to help serve and oversee the dining room. They stayed to the very last, putting away various items as they were cleaned and helping to straighten up.
Performing yeoman duties was the dinner's ramrod, Linda Rennick. Rennick was there Wednesday when the vegetables and potatoes were peeled and sliced and set to soak. Her mother, Elly, delivered pizzas to the Wednesday slicing crew and was on hand throughout Thursday to fill in wherever an extra hand was needed.
Rennick remained in the kitchen throughout the night, watching over the gravy, dressing, and seasoning and cooking the 26 turkeys. She was there when a pipe began to leak in the ceiling at about 2:30 a.m. and made the requisite phone call. She continued to see to the turkeys while Richard Graham arrived with a smile and took care of the leak.
There were only a few more surprises, including some volunteers who failed to appear, and the rest of the dinner went pretty much as planned.
"It was what I expected," Rennick said, except for two volunteers who showed up unannounced. "Jerome and Nellie Main came down from Hays and they were just tremendous. They stayed over night Wednesday and just showed up at about 6:30 (a.m.) Thursday and stayed all day. I didn't know them from Adam."
Rennick also singled out Joe Alexander who washed dishes all day, and Patti Bryant, who "just supervised everything else in the kitchen."
Rennick said she was a little worried because of what she thought was a late start on home deliveries, but her worries were for naught.
"When they got going, they just cranked them out."
Rennick said the boxes Brian Morse's crew used to take the meals around town were donated by Bekins.
"And Marian and Olive did their usual fabulous job in the dining room," Rennick said. "We got a lot of compliments and a lot of people said thank you."
She also offered a special thanks to all of the people who showed up Wednesday night.
Leftovers from the feed, minus some Thanksgiving staples, will be split between the Feed My Sheep Soup Kitchen and the St. Jude/Havre Central school lunch program.
"We had one pan of turkey (left), just enough stuffing (to go around) and about 14 people had to go without gravy," Rennick said.