FRANKFORD, Mo. — Generations have enjoyed the Ol’ Fashioned Turkey Dinner and Bazaar at Frankford First Christian Church since the church building was constructed in 1893, and the tradition returns Saturday, with proceeds going toward restoring the church’s historic stained glass windows.
Church member Ethan Colbert is co-chairing the committee for this year’s event with Suszanne Hollinrake, who lives three-and-a-half hours away in Iowa, always returns for the event which sparks countless childhood memories. Colbert said the dinner became a traditional community event, bringing local community members, families and people who had moved away back together for conversation, jokes and homemade food. For this year’s dinner from 4:30-7:30 p.m. Saturday, at 111 N. Main Cross St. in Frankford, Mo., proceeds from the dinner and bazaar will go toward restoring the 23 stained glass windows which were a part of the church building when it was constructed.
Colbert said members of the congregation all have stories of attending the dinner, working the event — including taking coat tickets for the coat rack to preparing traditional favorites like turkey, green beans, mashed potatoes and a wide variety of homemade pies. The original dinner was a two-day event, with turkey hash and mashed turnips served the second day.
Colbert discovered church records which showed the ticket price was 30 cents for the first dinner in 1893, and more than 830 people were in attendance.
“It really became this community event, up until the mid-1980s,” Colbert said.
According to church records, the dinner took place from 1893 until the 1980s, when one of the Sunday School classes didn’t have another group of people to take the reins for the event. Hollinrake remembered how there were different Sunday School classes, like Golden Rule and the class her parents attended, The Crusaders.
The dinner was dormant for a few years, and Colbert remembered growing up and noticing how the dinner was “almost folklore legend.”
“People would just talk about it. They would just smile because it brought back all these wonderful memories, of friends and family getting together to celebrate Thanksgiving. You can tell it meant so much to people who had grown up in the church, who had been a part of it.”
Hollinrake thought back to how those happy memories going back to her childhood. She remembered being in fifth or sixth grade and the milestone of being old enough to fill the water glass.
“That was a big thing,” she said. “The pies were all homemade. Always. Blackberry, strawberry rhubarb — this is when you brought out your A-game for the Thanksgiving dinner.”
Hollinrake said the “turkey room is still a legend.” The meal was served “family-style” with people eating as much as they wanted. The tables were arranged in a u-shape, and people lined up around the church basement with their ticket, awaiting a chance to sit down when someone got up.
She remembered as a child how people who were waiting would chat with those who were dining. Everyone brought family members, and often one part of a family would be in one spot, while other family members visited and made new friends in another spot of the dining area.
Attendees asked the children for dessert, and they would serve a piece of pie of their choice. She also vividly remembered how there was always a man in a white apron, scooping ice cream from an iron cooler which emerged from the turkey room for the sole purpose of making pie a la mode.
The dinner and bazaar were revived in 2017 to raise funds for a new composite-shingle-roof for the building, Colbert said. And while some details have changed from the original event, many traditions haven’t missed a beat — from the group of volunteers who carve the turkeys in the “turkey room” to fellow volunteers who prepare pies, corn, green beans and other traditional fare. Colbert thanked Dennis McMillen, who also grew up in the church, for cooking the turkeys at Center Locker.
Hollinrake said she and fellow committee members heard from their parents about some details that differed from years past, but they were happy about the return of the dinner and bazaar. One dish which carries a strong sense of tradition is the famous apple salad, with recipes painstakingly recorded in church cookbooks.
She said it’s fun to see how families prepare dishes in unique ways — one family makes dressing in a pan, while another makes them like haystacks. In 2017, Hollinrake said some people were worried the dinner and bazaar wouldn’t be the same as in years past. But those concerns soon disappeared.
“It’s one of those moments you sit down on a Saturday night and go ‘we did it. We sold out of everything. We made more money than we thought we would,’” Hollinrake said. “So it was like our prayers were answered.”
Colbert agreed the tradition returned in a big way in 2017.
“We held it that first year, and it was such a blessing. It was a lot of fun,” he said.
Colbert said people smile as they wash the china and visit with the 300 to 400 people who come each year. The dinner was canceled last year due to the pandemic, and Colbert stressed how bringing people back together safely was paramount. Meals will also be offered to-go, along with curbside pickup stalls set up on N. Main Cross St. and King St. Colbert said volunteers with gloves and masks will serve the curbside meals, and Hollinrake said delivery will also be offered to shut-ins.
Hollinrake said her favorite part of preparing for the Ol’ Fashioned Turkey Dinner and Bazaar each year is “seeing the older people in charge sharing with us what it was like.”
“A lot of people come back to help because it’s just so much fun,” she said. “You don’t see it as ‘I’ve got to be in the kitchen for two days.’ It’s just fun.”
Hollinrake will be working in the kitchen with her daughters and their families while her mother observes the passing of traditions. They join Colbert, his parents and his uncle as all the committee members and volunteers get everything prepared. Hollinrake’s daughter and son-in-law come each year from New Orleans to cook.
“We’re quite the motley crew, but we have a lot of fun,” she said.
Colbert expressed his gratitude for all of the members of the community and every visitor who attends, as well as the volunteers who work hard behind the scenes to make sure everything is prepared. And he said the meal is a “homecoming of sorts,” where old friends get the chance to see each other again and new friendships are formed.
The restoration efforts for the stained glass windows will begin with the south window in the sanctuary, one of three large windows measuring 12.5 feet tall by 10 feet wide. They are accompanied by 20 smaller windows throughout the church. The windows have received work in the past, and committee members selected Jacksonville Stained Glass Company from Jacksonville, Ill. to perform the restoration for each window.
The first phase of the project will involve crew members removing the entire window, taking it back to their workshop to disassemble it and rebuilding it with small pieces of similar new glass when necessary to rejuvenate the appearance. The cost to restore the first window is $39,000, including repairs to the wooden frame and a new, ventilated outer window.
“When I heard the process they were going to take, and the very tender loving care they were going to give to the windows, I knew that they were the company for us,” Colbert said.
Colbert remembered how the stained glass windows made a lasting impression on him from an early age, and the beauty continues to inspire today.
“For most of my life, I remember going to that church for Easter Sunday. And on Easter Sunday we have sunrise service,” he said. “The sun has risen, but it isn’t quite in full effect. Yet as you’re worshipping in that space on Sunday morning, on Easter Sunday, and the sun breaks out from behind the clouds — that’s a moment where you just can’t help but worship God and be grateful for that space, and be grateful for the fact that people generations ago thought enough and cared enough to design a worship place that spoke to the beauty of creation.”
Tickets for the Ol’ Fashioned Turkey Dinner and Bazaar are $10 each. The menu includes turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, a hot roll cranberry relish, apple salad and choice of dessert.
The bazaar includes a great variety of items, including baked goods, homemade cinnamon candies, home decor and handcrafted Christmas gifts, where Colbert said congregation members “outdo themselves” each year. He said platters and plates being retired from service in the church kitchen were popular last year, with scriptures and lettering painted on the china. They will be on hand again for the 2021 bazaar.
Hollinrake summed up how important the tradition is for her family when the Thanksgiving holiday draws near.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world, and I live three-and-a-half hours away,” she said.
More information is available by visiting Frankford First Christian Church’s Facebook page. People with questions can send a message on the page, and Facebook event will show the preparation efforts leading up to the big day.