Elks dish up feast for seniors

15 years ago

ImageHoulton Pioneer Times Photo/Elna Seabrooks
WELCOME — From left, Wade Hanson, Shane Gallop, Sam Wight and Adam Bither said “Merry Christmas” as guests arrived and left the annual senior citizens dinner at the Houlton Lodge of Elks.

By Elna Seabrooks
Staff Writer

    HOULTON — The Houlton Lodge of Elks was buzzing with activity late Sunday morning and into the early afternoon for their annual senior citizens dinner. Finding a parking spot along Main St. or the side streets was difficult unless someone was pulling out of their space.
    Ascending the steep front steps was rewarded with official greetings from the welcome team who also offered a hand or arm to anyone needing assistance. “We’re saying ‘Merry Christmas and happy holidays and we hope you enjoy the meal,’” explained Wade Hanson who stood ready to open the door along with Shane Gallop, Sam Wight and Adam Bither. Wright acknowledged their  job required fortitude: “It’s a little chilly.” Hanson added cheerfully that they had not eaten yet, but, “it’s early. It looks like another good year. We’ll be out here and we are the last to be served.”
    Guests sat down early for the turkey dinner and choice of desserts shortly after 11 a.m. As they left the lodge to go home, they could be heard thanking the team at the door expressing their appreciation for a delicious meal and good fellowship.
    Bundled up and on their way out the door, Molly and Chester Bailey of Houlton left wearing their perennial smiles carrying a couple of dinners for friends who were unable to attend. “I think it was the best dinner they ever served and I’ve been going for quite a few years,” observed Chester Bailey. “I’m ready for another one.” His wife Molly said “it was delicious.”
    Just inside, Paul LaPointe played trumpet from the majestic wood staircase landing overlooking a fully decorated live tree. Later, a chorus of teenagers from Houlton High School would cascade down the staircase to sing carols. The aroma of Christmas dinner wafted around the corridors and dining rooms thanks to the well-oiled machine working feverishly over steaming pots, hot pans and a busy pick-up window. The clatter of dishes and silverware emphasized the high energy of the moment.
    “It’s all in the crew that we have in the kitchen. If I didn’t have those guys and gals we wouldn’t be able to put this on, no way. I’ve been at this for 28 years. And, for the last 15-20 years, I’ve been the chairman with Blaine Lincoln and Bart Peters,” said Sean Conlogue. Standing nearby was Jon Bither who lauded Conlogue’s work: “You’re the event organizer, Sean, whether you like it or not.”
    Conlogue was quick to pay tribute to supporters who donated their time and the ingredients for the meal. “It started in 1981. In 2007 we served 711 people, last year 689. Nobody realizes how much really goes into this. There are 46 15-pound turkeys. There are 500 pounds of Naturally Potatoes, 200 pounds of regular potatoes we use to make the dressing, 70 loaves of bread, 50 pounds of Spanish onions, 60 pounds of celery.”
    Francis Fitzpatrick donated the Naturally Potatoes and Nason Farms in Linneus donated the potatoes for peeling. Mark Nason said “other people are donating their time. It’s the least we can do for the community. And, we are happy to donate to charitable causes.”
    Nason’s potatoes went into a Conolgue time-honored recipe. “The dressing is from an old recipe and uses fresh potatoes that are boiled and ground. Then ground onions, celery and bread are added.”
    County Yankee’s owner, Dave Cunha, donated 23 cases of turkeys plus the pies, rolls, fruit salad, bread and produce. He, too, said it was his way to support the community. Unable to attend due to his work, he said: “I do it to help the community and the lodge. It’s just my small part to help. The boys do all the work and people don’t realize the amount of work and the time that goes into that dinner.”
    Many seniors decided they were not going to venture out on a cold December morning for the dinner. Gail Cleary helped her husband, Bob, in an office designated for taking delivery orders. He was manning the phones and she was sorting out different districts of the towns. “The lodge takes orders about two weeks in advance and we are still taking them now. There are  about 350 to-go orders. Most deliveries have been made,” Bob Cleary explained just before 12:30 p.m. in between calls. As it turned out, 665 dinners were served; 247 were in the dining rooms and the rest were delivered. By 5:30 p.m. a cleanup crew had things back to normal.
    A few doors away was an ancillary kitchen-type room where Russell Fitzpatrick and Cliasta Bither sliced nearly 100 pumpkin and apple pies. The dining rooms bustled with activity as men, women and teens served dinners, refreshed coffee and bussed tables.
    As the cooking and serving wound down the good-natured kitchen crew was asked for their comment on the day. Mitch Holmes broke into song and got the entire group to join him in a chorus of “Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas.”     
    Michael Powers, the state Elks association president, who is in charge of all 22 lodges in Maine had a special detail Sunday. “I’m helping serve dinner. I’m dishing up potatoes and turkey and enjoying it.” His wife, Alfreda, said “today I’m a Jack-of-all-trades serving coffee, handing off plates and doing relief for whoever needs a break.” Both are educators in Houlton. He teaches social studies; she teaches third grade.
    But, the lesson of the day was one of service to the community. Some gave money or food and others gave their time to create an event that senior citizens said they appreciated. Pearl Flewelling said she “had a little bit of everything and dinner was good, very good.” Harold and Marilyn Adams echoed that sentiment: “It was very good.”