Archive Visit 7 –It’s Turkey Dinner Time!

Archive Visit 7 –It’s Turkey Dinner Time!
Archive Visit 7 –It’s Turkey Dinner Time!

There’s not a Mountie alive who doesn’t salivate at the words “Turkey Dinner”. Whether you remember it as a lot of fun or a lot of work, this annual event was the biggest deal in the fall school calendar. Dinner was important, sure, but there was also crafts, and games, and auctions, and baked goods for sale. So. Many. Baked. Goods.

                Turkey Supper – or Turkey Dinner as it later became known -- was a tradition looked forward to not only by students and their families but locals and those from the wider region as well. Legend has it that a tour bus once even brought in a large group of Amish families!

                The archives feature a treasure trove of memories for all that it took to put together this special event, from posters and tickets to ledgers of how many pounds of green beans were needed. Photos tell the story through the years, as fashion changed from furs and hats to blue jeans and scrunchies, but how did this event get started and what was its history?

                For that, we have to go back almost 100 years, to the mid 1920’s. Accounts vary, but the general consensus seems to be that it evolved from a “sandwich and Coca Cola luncheon” aimed at providing aid to missions in the Solomon Islands.

                “The project was started by Sister Joseph Aloysius whose friend, Father Wade who later became Bishop Wade, was stationed at the mission in the far-off Pacific Ocean,” reads one newspaper account from the late 1980’s. “All proceeds were sent to the Solomons’ mission. Bishop Wade became a long-standing friend of Mount de Chantal.

                As time went on, the lunches evolved into turkey dinners and the funds raised went into supporting the school (through The Building Fund).

                “The profits keep our academic departments well equipped and our buildings warm during the winters,” said a spokesman for the project. This year the Mount figures on feeding from at least 800, maybe 1,000, guests at Wednesday’s turkey supper.”

                By 1928, Turkey Dinner was off and running thanks in part to Sister Aimee Dunbar (more on her in a coming post!) and her father, who purchased the turkeys from a farm in Ohio.

                “Having no way of anticipating the turnout, Sister Teresa Cunningham, nun in charge, laid a flock of hams and chickens, which could be put to use to feed the sisters and students,” wrote alumnae Kitty Jefferson Doepken, when chronicling the 45th anniversary of Turkey Dinner for the Wheeling News-Register.

                Before the evening was over all turkeys and hams AND chickens were gone… and a Mount tradition was off to a rousing start!”

                As the years wore on, the only break in the tradition came during the later two years of World War II when Turkey Dinners were cancelled. One fond memory that comes up again and again in the archives is the year a live pig was auctioned off and won, reportedly by a family from Washington, PA.

                “And the good Sisters still talk about “the year of the pig”,” Doepken wrote. “That was the Supper during which they raffled off A LIVE PIG which was transported about the school’s large Playroom, in a little green wagon by student Mary Cracraft!”

                What are your favorite Turkey Dinner memories? We’d love to hear from more alumnae. In the meantime, please enjoy these photos of Turkey Dinner thorugh the years.

                Many thanks as always to the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston’s archivist Jon-Erik Gilot for helping us find these Mount de Chantal treasures!

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