I had a telephone call shortly after the alumni edition of the Peabody Gazette-Bulletin came out the first of this month. My good friend Barbara (Craig) Hodges had some information to impart about the history of the Memorial Day dinner and I was glad to hear from her.
She is a member of the class of 1953 and remembers the establishment of the Memorial Day dinner as more of a promotion of Peabody and its school system than a primary means of raising funds for proms or senior trips. She attributes the dinner tradition to a group of forward-thinking women in the community.
“The Brown Building was built in 1953 and was, at that time, an innovative example of modern educational architecture,” she said. “We had a sleek new gymnasium, cafeteria, and vocational education building all on one level. Cleo DeForest, Frances Baker, Ethel Skaer, and my mother (Dorothy Craig) were pleased with the new facility and were very pro-Peabody. They wanted to show off the new building and decided that serving a meal to the many who showed up for Memorial Day services at the cemetery was a good way to accomplish that.”
The women hoped to get former residents and alumni interested in the community and get them interested in supporting the school. Barbara Hodges thought that raising funds for a senior trip or a prom was secondary to promoting the educational opportunity available in Peabody with its new modern facility, progressive board of education, and successful alumni.
“Yes, I believe that using the meal to raise money from a captive audience for class projects eventually became the prime objective,” Hodges said. “However, I can remember my classmates and I pretty much sold ourselves out as slave labor all through high school just to go on the senior trip. Among other chores, Dick Davis, Darrell Jordan, and I washed all the windows — inside and out — in the house on Sycamore Street that Lynn Berns just restored and opened as the Prescott House Bed and Breakfast. And we did it for a pittance compared to today’s wages,” she said.
“Since we graduated in 1953 — the year the Brown Building was completed — we did not benefit from the establishment of the Memorial Day dinner. But eventually my brother and sister did. And, in time, the entire Craig family and our many family extensions have appreciated the Memorial Day Dinner and our Peabody connection.”
As I said before, I am not sure there ever will be a definitive answer to the question of who started the Memorial Day dinner or why. But the answers we have gotten to Gwen Gaines’ and Bill Spangler’s original enquiry are pretty much of the same variety.
And in the end, it really doesn’t matter much who started it or why. The meal and the accompanying gathering of family, friends, and school alumni have been a tradition for nearly 60 years. That says something about our community and our alumni. We hope you will keep coming back.
— SUSAN MARSHALL