Summit County celebrates Thanksgiving with community feast |

Summit County celebrates Thanksgiving with community feast

A community Thanksgiving dinner is served at the Silverthorne Pavilion in Silverthorne, Colo. on Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019.
Liz Copan /

On a clear, balmy final Thursday of November, hundreds of Summit County locals gathered at the Silverthorne Pavilion for the annual community Thanksgiving dinner organized by the Rotary Club of Summit County.

The Rotary Club has been hosting the Thanksgiving feast to the community for over 25 years, a tradition that aligns with the service organization’s motto, “Service above Self.”

Rotarian and Thanksgiving dinner organizer Emily Messegee said the dinner is put on by the Rotary Club’s Thanksgiving Day committee, with the over 600 pounds of turkeys donated by Sunshine Cafe owners Mike and Tenley Spry, cooking services donated by the Keystone Conference Center and pavilion space donated by the Town of Silverthorne.

Aside from turkey, the dinner also featured Thanksgiving staples like green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Messegee said the Rotary Club expected around 400 people at this year’s dinner.

Messegee said the dinner is not only a way to give back to the community, but also to get people together and feel at home. That’s especially important in a resort community, where many don’t have family or established friends to gather with.

“We are a transient community to some extent, and people who serve our community in the service and resort industry usually can’t make it home because the season just started,” Messegee said. “To provide a really great, warm, home-cooked meal is the way we can give back and say, ‘Thank you for serving our community.'”

Before the meal started being served, the chow line had already snaked out the door and into the pleasantly bright and warm late-November sunshine. Rotarian and volunteer Bill Sanders stood at the door to greet patrons and to wish them a Happy Thanksgiving.

Sanders, who has acted as “greeter” for the Thanksgiving dinners for the past decade, said the Thanksgiving feast and weekly Tuesday dinners the Rotary Club hosts year round is part and parcel of its mission to serve the community. Sanders said the Rotary Club has served over 130,000 individual meals in Summit since 2008.

“I do this because it helps the community and, frankly, it feels good to do it,” Sanders said about his eagerness to make people feel welcome during the dinners.

Rotarian Don Parsons was also on hand to help serve the dinner. Parsons noted the dual perspectives of Thanksgiving nationwide, with indigenous peoples on the coasts considering it a “National Day of Mourning,” marking reflection on the loss of land, culture and life after the arrival of European settlers with the arrival of the Mayflower on Plymouth Rock.

But at the Thanksgiving dinner in Silverthorne, Parsons said the more “mythical” idea of Thanksgiving was being celebrated — the idea of strangers coming together for a day to celebrate their blessings and replenish the stores of goodwill in the community.

“The mythical Thanksgiving is about sitting around the table, breaking bread and sharing thoughts, and hopefully positive experiences,” Parsons said. “It is an opportunity to have a diversity of people — whether it’s racial, ethnic, economic, political, you name it — to get together, break bread, just as a way of trying to identify those things we are thankful for.”

Longtime friends Don Kennen and Monty McClenahan stood in line for the dinner, one they have attended for many years.

McClenahan runs one of Summit County’s only bail bond companies. He said he has been a Summit local for 34 years, and while the place has seen a lot of change, the core spirit of the community is still quite alive.

“When I came here in the mid 80’s, there was only one stoplight between the south end of Breckenridge and Interstate 70; now there’s like 17 stoplights and three traffic circles,” McClenahan said. “The place has grown, but there’s still some good people here.”

“Yeah, a lot of good people,” Kennen echoed.

Kennen added that he had something to be thankful for this year, with a successful knee replacement allowing him to ski from top to bottom of the hill many more times this year than he was able to before the surgery.

To illustrate the spirit of the holiday and this community dinner in particular, Parsons noted a table with three generations of a single family eating and enjoying time together. That, he said, was what community aspect of the dinner was all about.

“It’s all about defining why we love it here in Summit County, why our families are important to us and why this place is important to us,” Parsons said.

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