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Memorial Day Dinner history

Early in April, I had a request for information about who started the Memorial Day Dinner project and why. Since I am a recent transplant to this community and have lived here only 43 years, I have no idea about the history of this event. However, I decided to put the question to the public in this column, hoping to find the answer.

I have found the public usually knows everything. Just ask the Advisory Council at Food Mart if you don’t believe me!

Anyway, the person who asked was interested not only in gathering some history about the Memorial Day Dinner, but he wanted to honor the founding class, parents, or sponsors by having them sit together at a designated table this year.

The gentleman in question was Bill Stovall of Augusta and the local classmate with whom he discussed this issue was Gwen Gaines. Gwen told me that she was a Memorial Day Dinner mom for the first time in 1963 when her daughter was a sophomore, but that the tradition was in place and she had no idea why. She said she just contributed the Jell-O salad she was told to bring!

I do not think we found the answer, but we got a couple of clues from some gals who attended Peabody High School in the late 1950s. Here is what they remember.

The first response was from Judy (Whisler) Mellott: “As I recall, the year I was a sophomore, 1956, our mothers got together (spearheaded by Frances Baker) and thought that serving the throngs that gathered in Peabody for Memorial Day would be a good way for our class to raise money for the prom and for our senior trip in 1958. I am not sure what was served, but I remember that my Mom made Harvard beets and kept them hot using her deep fat fryer. That was long before crock pots were invented! I’m sorry to say that I did not help the day of the meal because I was dating Alan (Mellott) then and I went to a family picnic with him in Newton. I do know that the meal was served in the “new” Brown Building which had been built in 1953. I have no idea how many people were served, but it must have been worth it since it is still being done 56 years later!”

The second response was from Gerry (Homan) Uphoff: “I just read your editorial in the April 11 Gazette. You asked which class started the Memorial Day dinners and you probably have had lots of opinions and remembrances. Here’s mine. It runs in my mind that the class of 1961 (of which I am a proud member) was the first class to hold the dinner. It was for funds for the senior trip (we went by train to Chicago) and the dinner would have been in May of 1959. I also remember “working” the dinner — not a fun thing that I wanted to do.”

I am not sure this is going to make Bill Stovall happy. Nor does it look like we are going to be able to seat any parents or sponsors at a table this Memorial Day to thank them for giving us all a great venue to get together with family, friends, classmates, and community folks. This is another of those instances where we just waited too long to realize we should have acknowledged someone’s effort.

If any of you alums have different or additional memories of the Memorial Day dinner, you might send them to me here at the Peabody Gazette-Bulletin. Maybe we could drum up some interest in a booklet of Memorial Day Dinner recipes … mmm, Harvard beets, baked ham (from my days as a worker-mom), and Jell-O salad. Or maybe not.

Thank you Bill Stovall, for the question; Gwen, Judy, and Gerry for the memories, and the generations of moms, kids, and class sponsors who — year after year — have gotten the job done!

— SUSAN MARSHALL

Last modified May 9, 2012

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