Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

November 1, 2013

Turkey dinner going strong at 50 years

Debbie Blank The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — A half century ago, perhaps First Methodist Church of Batesville members decided to host a turkey dinner because they had to raise money to pay for an addition (please see box).

The new 74-by-40-foot building included four large classrooms, a choir room, large fellowship hall, boiler room and storage space. In the church building, remodeling took place in the current three basement classrooms, one of which became the church office. The kitchen was enlarged, and a parlor, a chapel with seating for 60, coat room and two restrooms were added.

A special service was held Nov. 17, 1963 to consecrate the new educational unit, The Herald-Tribune reported Oct. 31, 1963. Participants included a bishop’s representative, Pastor Charles Myers, building committee chairman William Greeman, church school superintendent Melvin Yorn and lay leader Richard Lemen. Both choirs sang.

Just like many other Batesville traditions, for 50 years this turkey dinner has been going strong. Organizers are a Batesville trio, three-year leader Barb Nettnay and five-year leaders Steve and Tricia Hutchison. The menu hasn’t deviated: turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, cole slaw, cranberry salad, bread, desserts and drinks.

Several advancements are keeping the event fresh. New youth director Jane Turchyn asked, “How can we help?” It was decided each confirmation student would work at the meal side by side with his or her mentor (an admired nonrelated church member). For the first time, the cranberry salad will be prepared at the church instead of homes. Nettnay adds, “We bought a celery cutter this year” to ease the dressing preparation.

Because this dinner is a five-decade milestone, as persons eating in the dining room stand in line, they can read memories of past turkey meals written on – what else? – paper turkeys and posted on the walls.

In the early days, turkeys, cranberry salads and desserts were prepared in members’ homes and carted to the church. Told by Elsie Ritter and Dora Larabee, now dead, “we need some young people,” Virginia Smith was recruited around 1967. “Those ladies knew how to work!” she recalls. “We peeled bushels of potatoes.” She and the late Audrey Rhoads mashed mountains of them with a measly handheld mixer. “My arm hurt like you couldn’t believe.” Members got smart and eventually borrowed a gigantic mixer from the Batesville Community School Corp.

The gas and electric stoves would only hold 13 roasters of dressing, then made with cornbread. “We would run out of dressing all the time,” Smith complains. The Rev. Charles Flory organized the operation after he arrived in 1977. “We got our tables and chairs and electric roasters.”

His dream was always to sell at least 1,000 dinners, reports Ted Hartshorn, who started volunteering with wife Ginny in about 1966. One year the Methodists served almost 1,200, he says triumphantly. Peak years were probably in the late 1990s, Hartshorn figures.

Smith’s husband, Les, made 4-foot-long wooden paddles. After women broke bread slices up for the dressing several days ahead of time, the cubes were set on sheets in Sunday school rooms. Using paddles, “we would go down there every day to turn that bread” so it would dry out.. Paddles also were used to mix vast quantities of dressing and gravy.

In the dining room, “originally, it was much fancier than it is now.” Instead of a buffet line, servers would bring the food, wearing black skirts, white blouses and aprons, according to Nettnay.

For a time, Connie Miller and her mother, the late Louise Heidt, always did the dressing. “Sandy Dickey and her crew used to cut up how many heads of cabbage, 65?” for freezer slaw, Nettnay remembers. Flory found a food processor that would shred it much quicker. Even better now is buying already shredded cabbage.

According to Smith, the late Oscar Fischmer used to bring in centerpieces from his flower shop. “My husband went to an auction and came home with all these” wicker turkey baskets, which still hold orange napkins, sugar and sweetener.

Who chaired the event? At first, two ladies ran the kitchen, with a third person overseeing the dining room. Ted Hartshorn says later usually about three couples were in charge, rotating in and out, some staying for as long as 20 years. In addition to the Hartshorns, they included Doug and Mona Wilson, Bob and Jane Fitzpatrick, Gary and Jerilyn Budd, Nick and Kay Bailey, Chris and Jerilyn Lowery, Charlie and Elaine Howell, Andy and Temple Gordon and many more.

They debated which were the worst jobs. Smith nominated making the slaw because of the pervasive odor. “We grew the cabbages in our garden” to make slaw for 400. Les Smith would walk in the kitchen and say, “I hate this smell.”

Hartshorn disliked “taking the innards out of the turkeys,” which used to be picked up very early Friday morning in a semi-thawed condition. Flory had a crew of male retirees (Hartshorn, Smith, Glen Butte and more) who had to run warm water over the birds and pull the frosty gizzards, necks and other parts out.

Hartshorn recalls two near disasters. About two decades ago, they ran out of turkeys about 6 p.m. “We had a lot more people show up” than expected and perhaps carryout portions were too generous. “We made a quick call to Kroger. Kroger sliced ham. We immediately jumped in the car, zoomed over,” and grabbed the substitute meat. “Lo and behold, we had left the car running with the keys in it and the doors locked.” Rapidly summoned policeman Bill Dramann and a coat hanger saved the day. “People were disappointed it wasn’t turkey, but at least they had something.”

Likewise, at least 10 years ago, the turkey vanished before the ending hour. Nettnay says they bought every rotisserie chicken Kroger had. Most pieces were served to church members, who eat together after public diners leave.

The dinner “almost died out about eight years ago” due to lack of leadership. Longtime couples “were burned out. It’s a big job,” Nettnay says.

The fundraiser has evolved, going from a home to church operation. With stricter state health department rules, Judi Craig became a certified food handler and instructed other members about how to keep the meals safe.

According to Smith, “I ran around many times trying to find the best price for turkeys,” switching between Kroger, Crum turkey farm and the former Batesville IGA. For the last six years, boneless turkeys have been purchased from Kopps, Harrison, Ohio.

One change over the years has been “the huge mushrooming of the carryout orders,” Hartshorn points out. Carryouts started in the early 1970s. “It was small at first and grew and grew. Now it’s an assembly line operation. Bob Fitzpatrick has run that since it started and he’s done a nice job.” Last year, 818 dinners were sold, 228 in the dining room and 590 for carryout.

At least 100 church members are involved. On Thursday night, some set up tables and chairs, then distribute placemats, salt and pepper shakers and decorations. Other work areas range from preparing the menu items to turkey carving, carryout, washing and rinsing dishes and cleanup. Nettnay estimates one-third to one-half of helpers are there on the fateful Saturday from 6 a.m.-8 p.m. “It’s amazing how fast they get it cleaned up.”

Hartshorn maintains the biggest challenge of pulling off the dinner “was the timing of getting started in the various groups on Saturday afternoon. It all had to come together at 3:15” for home deliveries made by Jay and Kay Varner, the Hartshorns and teens to elderly shut-ins. “If any one of those items straggles behind, it screws up everything.”

Tricia Hutchison reports there really aren’t too many challenges any more. “We just have to be the leader of the parade, we don’t have to recreate the wheel. It blows my mind how fabulously it comes together every single year. We’re blessed with such amazing volunteers.” Not all of them are Methodists. “We’ve got Boy Scouts and (National) Honor Society students. We’ve got neighbors, Catholics, ... Baptists! Everybody is doing whatever needs to be done. It makes me realize what a great community this is.”

The church’s Outreach Committee purchases tickets for Safe Passage clients, who received 26 dinners last year. Leftovers are donated to the facility as well “to let them know we’re caring about them,” according to Hutchison.

The average profit after expenses is $5,000. Proceeds are used for building upkeep, such as roof leak repairs, new restroom toilets, even light bulbs and dish towels.

Members anticipate the occasion. Hartshorn likes “the coming together of people in the community.” Smith waits for the compliments. “People come up to you afterwards and say, ‘It was a great meal. We loved it.’’’

Because this is the church’s major fundraiser, “it is a little bit about the money,” Hutchison says, “but it’s so much more about the fellowship of our church.” Nettnay adds, “It is so much fun seeing how our church family, with a lot of help from community friends, pulls off this massive meal every year.”

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbie.blank@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.

Evolution of the turkey dinner 1963: A church Christmas bazaar began with a lunch Nov. 23 at 11 a.m. and a turkey dinner at 5 p.m., The Herald-Tribune reported Nov. 21. The profit was $900, according to Nettnay. The next day, the late President John F. Kennedy, who was killed the day before the event, was remembered during the Methodist and all other local church services. The same schedule was followed in 1964 with chicken and noodles served midday. The cost of the evening turkey dinner was $1.50. 1973: The 10th annual meal took place on the second Saturday, Nov. 10, and that date has stuck. Hours were longer, 4:30-7:30 p.m. Tickets were $2.50 for adults and $1.25 for children under 10. At that time, St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Smyrna, and St. John Catholic Church, Enochsburg, also hosted turkey suppers. 1983: On Saturday, Nov. 12, the country store was open from noon-7:30 p.m. with turkey dinners served 4:30-7:30 p.m. and carryouts 4-6:30. Tickets were $4 for adults and $2 for children 12 and under. 1993: The Saturday, Nov. 13, dinner was slightly shorter, 4:30-7 p.m., with the same carryout hours. Tickets were $6 for adults and $3 for children under 12. 2003: Hours were the same Saturday, Nov. 8. Tickets were $7 for adults and $4 for children, according to The Herald-Tribune. 2013: The 50th Batesville United Methodist Church turkey dinner is Saturday, Nov. 9, from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Carryouts start a half hour earlier. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children. • The First Methodist Church of Batesville was established in 1845, the Nov. 14, 1963, issue reported. The English-speaking church was organized in 1892 with the name Batesville English Methodist Episcopal Church.