Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Residents come together for the holidays


From her vantage point near the high-action kitchen, Jane Cowart watched the line of Haines residents move up the serving queue Thursday at the annual Thanksgiving community dinner. It was the third year the event was held at the school cafeteria.

She liked what she saw.

It was 1 p.m. and the two-hour event was just kicking off, but there were already a dozen cars in the parking lot and more arriving every minute.

The Haines Ministerial Association, the event sponsor, whipped up a half-dozen turkeys and a few hams. And in the Alaska spirit of community on a holiday, residents filled in the gaps with their own home recipes for garlic mashed potatoes, Russian tea, pecan pie and fruit salad.

“There are so many widows and widowers, so many people in Haines who live so far from family,” said Cowart, who along with her husband Wayne is a pastor at the Haines Christian Center. “A widower might not want to cook a whole turkey. So they can come here.”

There were single retired folks and entire families who lined up with green cafeteria trays filled with holiday food. The plastic tablecloths bore fall maple leaves.

Signs meant for school students warned “Walk Quietly Please” and “Say Please and Thank You” but nobody had to remind this crowd.

There were hugs and well wishes as people stored their coats at a table by the window, rolled up their sleeves and got down to the business of eating. After the first course, they went back to a second serving window where Jackie Mazeikas swirled canned toppings on a galaxy of homemade pies.

Meanwhile, Wayne Cowart, looking like a ranking sergeant in a military mess hall, ran the show back in the kitchen, making sure the line kept moving and the food was hot.

Outside, it was all smiles.

“This is our first time here,” said Joyce Town as she placed her tray on a table. But eating with her neighbors didn’t mean she escaped her holiday work in the kitchen. She cooked up one of the turkeys being served.

“My house felt really good with that turkey in the oven and I thought maybe we’d just come over and eat here, too. I didn’t want a whole turkey for myself.”

Wrangell-born Judy Kley sat with her husband Roger and dug in. On her tray were turkey and ham, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, a sweet potato, roll and fruit salad. Kley brought her homemade Russian tea.

Kley said she attended school in the building before the cafeteria was built. The space used to house the principal and superintendent’s office. She likes it better this way.

A few tables away, 7-year-old Abby Blaine ate with her parents, Andrew and Mellisa. Mellisa’s left arm was in a sling.

So how did her mother hurt herself, Abby was asked. Even at her age, she was deft in dealing with pesky questions from the press.

“I think my mom should answer that,” she said with a shy smile.

Mellisa said she pulled a muscle. So was it hard to eat with one hand?

“Heck, no,” Mellisa said. “Thank God I’m right-handed.”

She also used her good right hand to whip up the garlic mashed potatoes served that day.

Cowart said the annual dinner had previously been held at local churches.

“But some people don’t want to come to a church for anything so we said ‘Why don’t we try a neutral place?’ We contacted the school and they said 'great,' so here we are.”

For a touch of atmosphere, three residents played music, a group that calls itself Celtic Pipe Dreams, with Dave Nanney on keyboard, Dan Lundberg on guitar and Ben Bard on violin. The volunteer band played Christmas songs and took requests.

“We just wanted to add a little spirit to the community,” said Nanney.

As the band played, Salvation Army Lieutenant Kevin Woods wandered the room with a clipboard, soliciting volunteers to ring the bell outside Howsers IGA this Christmas season.

His list was filling fast.

“A lot of communities hire a bell ringer, but we don’t have to do that in Haines,” he said.

But Woods kept at it. Any volunteer slots he didn’t fill he’d have to work himself. And there was already so much to do around the holidays.

By 2 p.m., some 50 people filled the tables.

One of them was 74-year-old Bill McCord.

He stood out. He was wearing shorts on a 30-degree day – along with his oversized “I Voted Libertarian” button.

“At my age,” he laughed, “it’s easier to get dressed this way.”

In the end, after all the fork-and-knife-bearers were counted, the dinner served about 75 people, Cowart said.

Sure, the number was down about 45 from last year, but when you’re talking about holiday public dinners, that’s a good thing.

“We like to think people found a nice warm place to have Thanksgiving,” Cowart said.


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