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Here’s the Beef: Famous Hartland Supper Keeps Cooking

  • Gordon Barbour, right, of Windsor, Vt., enjoys his meal with his sisters as volunteer server Stub Fernandez, left, of Hartland, Vt., hustles to refill a serving platter at the Famous Roast Beef Supper at the First Congregational Church in Hartland, Vt., on January 28, 2017. Held on six consecutive Saturdays, the annual supper draws hundreds of diners and is a major fundraiser for the church. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • From left, Hartland, Vt., volunteers Molly Delaney, Pat Richardson, Carmen Summarsell, Rhonda Lamica, Harriet Dumas, Ali DeCuollo, Jean Day and Martha McGlinn gather around a large table in the basement kitchen at the First Congregational Church in Hartland, Vt., early in the morning on January 28, 2017, to make dough for dinner rolls and to peel potatoes for the evening's annual Famous Roast Beef Supper. Held over six consecutive Saturdays, the community meals are a major fundraiser for the church and are staffed by crews of at least two dozen volunteers. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hartland, Vt., volunteers Sherry Calkins and Bill Blodgett talk during a break from chopping potatoes early in the morning at the First Congregational Church in Hartland, Vt., on January 28, 2017. As a child, Blodgett helped at the first fundraising meal in 1966 -- his mother began the annual tradition. Calkins, who is in charge of coordinating the kitchen crew for the first three of this year's six dinners, has been volunteering since 1975. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Volunteers Ali DeCuollo, left, and Jean Day, both of Hartland, Vt., laugh about their hands cramping while helping to peel 150 pounds of potatoes for the annual Famous Roast Beef Supper early in the morning at the First Congregational Church in Hartland, Vt., on January 28, 2017. Day has been helping since 1968 -- this year is DeCuollo's first. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Volunteer hostess Linda Genovese, of Hartland, Vt., checks her list of diners to be seated at the Famous Roast Beef Supper held at the First Congregational Church in Hartland, Vt., on January 28, 2017. Instead of waiting in line, this year diners listened to piano music in the sanctuary. Held on six consecutive Saturdays, the suppers are a major fundraiser for the church. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • From left, kitchen crew volunteers Rhonda Lamica, Harriet Dumas, Carmen Summarsell, Pat Richardson and Mike French (in background), all of Hartland, Vt., laugh about the gag prize -- a cookbook "Cooking in the Nude" -- Dumas won for having the closest guess to the evening's turnout of 229 at the annual Famous Roast Beef Supper at the First Congregational Church in Hartland, Vt., on January 28, 2017. Leftover rolls were sold after church the next day and beef, rolls and gravy were part of a meal church members put together on Tuesday for the Hixon House, an adult homeless shelter at the Upper Valley Haven. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Diners head home after attending the annual Famous Roast Beef Supper at the First Congregational Church in Hartland, Vt., on January 28, 2017. Two-hundred sixty pounds of rolled prime rib beef, 100 dozen rolls, 150 pounds of potatoes and 45 pies are prepared for each of the meals held on six consecutive Saturdays. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Saturday, February 04, 2017

Hartland — Since 1966, there have been 10 U.S. presidents, nine different Vermont governors — and one annual Hartland Roast Beef Supper season.

“It’s a tradition,” said Sherry Calkins, who has been volunteering at the suppers since 1975.

Held on six Saturdays in a row beginning on the last Saturday in January, the suppers are a fundraiser for the First Congregational Church of Hartland, also referred to as the Brick Church.

“It’s the men’s fellowship that runs it, but the ladies who do all the work,” quipped Larry Frazer, president of the men’s fellowship, as volunteers — both men and women — worked on a recent Saturday to prepare for that night’s supper.

The menu has remained unchanged since the suppers started, said Frazer, requiring up to 300 pounds of meat, two crates of cabbage, 200 pounds of potatoes and 18 big cans of green beans. The group also makes 1,000 fresh rolls for each dinner. There are four big ovens in the church’s basement kitchen — two for the roast beef and two for the rolls.

“This is not a heart-healthy meal, in particular,” Calkins acknowledged, “but it’s awful good.”

Then, of course, there’s dessert.

Carmen Summarsell recruits people to make pies for the supper, and 20 or so usually sign up make two pies each.

“I don’t indicate what kind of pies,” said Summarsell, who has volunteered for about 20 years.

Many of the volunteers have been helping out at the suppers for decades, and they are quick to share memories — such as the family with members in Brattleboro and Burlington who found the Hartland suppers a convenient central location to get together. Or the family that traveled all the way from Connecticut specifically for the supper.

Jean Day, who has volunteered at the suppers since the early 1970s, remembered that famously private author J.D. Salinger “was the first one in the door” for the suppers.

“He liked community things, even though everybody thought he was a recluse,” Calkins added.

While the suppers have remained a mainstay, getting volunteers to help out has been a challenge in recent years. As a result, the number dinners has been trimmed down to six from the original nine.

“Things change, life gets busy,” Calkins said. “It’s harder for the parents to give up Saturdays.”

But those who do volunteer come back year after year, and therein lies a joke: “The only way to stop volunteering is to die,” said Frazer, who has helped out at the suppers since the mid-1970s.

Between 30 and 40 volunteers work each dinner, some in the kitchen, some in the dining room that Melissa Perkins has overseen for about 15 years. The suppers begin at 5 p.m., with 80 people being served at once. Then, as tables clear out, more people are seated. On the first of this year’s six suppers, 226 people attended, Calkins said.

“That was low, but the first one usually takes a while to get the word around,” she said.

To break even, 150 people must attend, Frazer said. The dinners cost $15 for adults, $7 for children 10 and under, and the men’s fellowship donates the $9,000 or so it raises through the supper season to the Congregational Church’s general fund. In years past, the money has gone toward building repairs, among other needs.

Throughout the decades, the suppers have a consistent presence in town. Since the 1960s, Frazer said, he can recall only “one or two” that were canceled due to the weather. But there is one new wrinkle: Children are now allowed to volunteer, which makes the older attendees happy, Frazer said.

Young or old, resident or out-of-towner, the feelings of tradition and camaraderie generated by those first suppers all those years ago seems consistent, as well.

“It’s a community effort,” Calkins said.

Editor’s note: The remaining dinners will be held Feb. 11, 18 and 25, and March 4, from 5-7 p.m., at the Hartland Congregational Church, 10 Station Road. Geoff Hansen can be reached at ghansen@vnews.com or 603-727-3247. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.