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Firefighters fork up good cheer

For the 11th year in a row, firefighters baked yummy turkey, ham, green beans, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, and served it to seniors in Ashland, along with generous dollops of gratitude and community-building holiday cheer.

It’s a much-anticipated fest at the Ashland Senior Center — and Monday evening it drew a record 80 people, some of whom, like 91-year old Dorothy Parsons, have made it to all 11 turkey feasts.

“I like the food, especially the potatoes and gravy, but the best part is seeing a lot of people I’ve known in our community for many years,” says Parsons, who started volunteering at the Senior Center 21 years ago.

Ashland Fire & Rescue workers and their spouses and children take the event very seriously, as seniors provide much support to the department, says Brent Knutson, president of the firefighters union.

Several days ahead of the event they get busy buying and cooking courses at the nearby Walker Elementary School kitchen and ladle out the goodies, with the kids serving and busing dishes in two big rooms, he says.

The meal is a free holiday present for seniors and “is our way of giving back to the elderly for all their support during the year,” he adds.

Firefighter-paramedic Ron Garfas-Knowles notes, “It’s great to watch my children, Mason and Tyla (age 10 and 13), growing up with this tradition, serving the elderly and doing dishes. It’s an honor. And it’s nice to interact with older folks when we’re not in an emergency situation. They have provided comfort and relief, so many warm moments to the community, so we love giving back.”

Senior Mark Kliewer says the event “means community, meeting new people, getting out, not sitting at home, plus it’s excellent food. We’re grateful to the fire department and everyone who gives for us.”

“This is so great,” Evelyn Thompson says. “Everyone here is very friendly and talks to you, even if you don’t know them. Ashland is that way.”

“It reflects the community,” Robin Thompson adds. “We look forward to it every year. They are masters of turkey and ham, all the things you love to eat, and the pumpkin pie is great.”

“It’s especially wonderful because I run the Food & Friends program here (for daily lunch), so when I get served by really good firefighters and their children, I love it,” Jane Davis says.

Noting it’s “the tastiest meal I’ve had in a long time,” 91-year old Joe Vidmar adds that the secret to longevity is, “Never go to bed angry — and to be happy in life. If you’re married, you should do everything together.”

Parsons echoes the sentiment, adding that her secret of living past 90 is to get up everyday and use your body, which she does, even with arthritis, by walking to the Senior Center on her walker and sometimes with just a cane.

Lead organizer of the feast, Battalion Chief Marshall Rasor, who worked on the mashed potatoes, says, “It means a lot to be able to connect with the community in a non-stressful setting. We get to interact with family and friends here. They’ve always sent us letters of thanks when we’ve shown up at their house. My two sons always work this event, and it’s been great for them.”

Rasor points out that the Thanksgiving dinner is known for its high quality, as all firefighters are good cooks, because the fire station is their “second home and if they don’t know how to cook, they learn very quickly.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Father and son Ron Garfas-Knowles and Mason Garfas, 10, help serve Thanksgiving dinner Monday at the Ashland senior center. Photo by Denise Baratta
Jan Baker, left, and Katie Gibble serve up smiles and Thanksgiving Dinner Monday at the Ashland Senior Center. Photo by Denise Baratta