Turkey dinner volunteers emblematic of Pageant’s spirit
By James Tilson
MANTI—The Manti City turkey dinner volunteers are emblematic of the volunteer spirit of the Mormon Miracle Pageant and of Manti itself.
“The dinners are synonymous with the Pageant,” says Pageant turkey dinner committee chairman Kent Barton. “They started at nearly the same time. It’s a unique recipe that people love and associate with the Pageant. They’ve always gone together.”
This year, the turkey dinner served 12,783 dinners to Pageant visitors, with over 2,200 on the busiest night, Friday June 21. Barton estimates that over its entire history, the turkey dinner has served over 300,000 dinners to hungry Pageant-goers.
The total amount of supplies that went into feeding so many people this year is astounding. The servers dished out approximately 8,000 pounds of turkey, 1,800 pounds of dehydrated potatoes, 1,000 gallons of green beans, 1,200 dozen dinner rolls, 50 gallons of gravy and 220 sheets (or about 15,000) of brownies.
Although there were upwards of 90 volunteers who worked the serving lines and grills and clean-up every night, the committee members were in charge of supervising all those people, and were at the dinners every night.
Matt Christensen, Daniel Christensen and Darren Dyreng were the “grillers,” and worked with 24 people each night. They would start at 3 o’clock each night, and go “until they saw the light at the end of the tunnel,” according to Barton.
Doug Evertsen, Chris Evertsen, Reid Cox and Casey Cox were the commissary coordinators. They worked in the commissary building, to get the mashed potatoes ready and cut the barbecued turkey.
Russell Hatch and Becky Hatch were serving coordinators, and they oversaw the serving lines, and the green beans, gravy, dinner rolls and brownies.
Ken Sorensen, Valerie Sorensen, Allan Bringhurst and Diane Bringhurst headed up the welcoming committee. They had a very important job, to be in charge of the seating and bussing the tables. The National Guard Armory seats 400, so to get upwards of 2,000 people served a night, you got to move the people along.
Mary Wintch was in charge of the cashiers, and Kent Barton was in charge of purchasing and general oversight—as he called it, “putting out the fires.”
All of the people interviewed agreed volunteering for the dinners, or the Pageant, meant a lot to them in terms of providing a service to their community.
“It was a unique service undertaking over the last 50 years,” said Barton. “Our community really had to come together in order to feed that many people.” Barton noted Manti, which has a population of a little over 3,000 people, would have to feed nearly 2,000 people every night, in addition to all the people who did not come to the turkey dinner.
Councilman Darren Dyreng, one of the “grillers,” said the dinners started as a service to the local businesses that would be swamped with visitors. “It started as a service, with so many people overflowing from the businesses,” he said. “Doing the dinner has certainly helped the community.”
Becky Hatch, serving coordinator, is a recent resident of Manti, but feels very strongly about giving back to her new home. “I and my husband love our community, and volunteering feels like giving a little bit of our heart back to our community,” she said. “The Pageant really shows what makes Manti so special. No other place we’ve lived does anything like this.”
Councilwoman Mary Wintch, cashier supervisor, said its “Exhausting, but a wonderful service. Working in the line, I often see childhood friends I haven’t seen in 20 or 30 years. It’s a labor that consumes two weeks, but it has its rewards.”
Wintch also sees how volunteering brings out the best in people. “I am so impressed with people’s willingness to volunteer. I’ve had cashiers call me to say if we need extra help to call. I’ve also seen cashiers dip into their own pockets to help people pay for the dinner.”
Two “meat cutters” have a special place in Kent Barton’s heart. David Christensen, 91, and Betty Christensen, 92, have been volunteering for the dinner for over 20 years. The Christensens split time between their place in Palisade Park and Grand Junction, Colo., but are natives of Manti and graduates of Manti High School.
“I just felt it was a small way to give back to Manti,” said David. “That was my motivation for volunteering.”
The Pageant is close to their heart, and will be missed by them. “We’re sure disappointed to see the Pageant end,” he said. “It will be hard for Manti to duplicate. What a missionary tool, there’s not a stage or environment like it in the world. To see the last show on Saturday night was beautiful.”
Many of the volunteers were also sad to see the Pageant end, but at the same time looked forward to what would come next.
“At the end of the day, it took a lot of volunteering to make it happen,” said Dyreng. “But it’s OK. At this point, I hope the private enterprises in Manti will step up to make up the difference.”
“It’s sad to see it go,” said Hatch, “but it will be interesting to see what we can come up with to come together as a community. I have hope for the future.”
Wintch thinks, “It time. Putting on the Pageant and the dinner takes the entire community, putting in a massive effort. It’s not easy at all. It can be a real stress. While rewarding, it can wear people out. I hope future efforts won’t be as intense.”
Barton said, “The Pageant is over, but the community still wants to come together and celebrate.” Barton notes there are already plans in the works to expand on other community events.
According to Barton, Manti is in talks to expand the RatFink celebration to become bigger and longer. The city is also looking to host several baseball and softball tournaments at the new city athletic complex. Manti is looking into expanding its ATV summer event, and the 4th of July celebration too.
Barton even hinted there was the possibility of a new winter celebration, taking place between Thanksgiving and Christmas. “Right now, the planning is very preliminary, but the people involved are very serious, and I think there is a good possibility it will work out.”