Seneca Feeds 300 at Annual Turkey Dinner

Seneca Feeds 300 at Annual Turkey Dinner
Pastor Les Parmenter 'served' two of his three Sunday sermons at Halsey and Thedford as usual, but his third service at Seneca gave way to the annual dinner. Waiting in line to get served, Kathy and Kevin Hood, Thedford UCC members, (Kathy is the organist for Thedford), Wanda Simonson, Seneca UCC member, serves the turkey. Photo credit: Terri Licking

SENECA – If you find yourself straddling time zones, breakfast, lunch, October and November, chances are you’ve got one foot in Seneca, Nebraska, on the western edge of Thomas County, just in time for the United Church of Christ’s annual turkey dinner.

For over 75 years, the church’s handful of members has come together on October’s last Sunday to feed hundreds of people. It is a tradition dating back so far that no current member could tell you exactly when it began, but most have settled on 2022’s feast as the 79th incarnate.

While historically a free-will donation, the meal this year was upped to a $10 charge per person, though the price did little to hamper turnout. This year’s turkey dinner served over 300 meals, with a number of those carried out for the hungry and homebound.

Caught cleaning up afterwards – LaVina Sevier, 92, oversaw the annual Seneca Turkey Dinner and Bazaar for over 20 years. Here she is flanked by Connie Broweleit and Deb Daly, fellow Seneca UCC members and helpers. Caught in the background is Jody Reynolds, son of Donna, who oversees and coordinates this annual fundraiser. Photo credit: Terri Licking

Other traditions flourished despite the price hike as well: donations including baked goods, cutlery, and greeting cards furnished the tables of the church’s coinciding annual bazaar, the proceeds of which would go, as they always do, back into the church.

Nor did the entry fee or bazaar deter feasters from a tearful reunion with the most unique and anticipated aspect of the meal: the homemade horseradish making. One hundred and ninety-six pints were filled this year, a total not to sneeze at, no matter how thoroughly the process clears out the sinuses.

The horseradish was made and jarred in a matter of 14 days, a rate of about 14 pints a day; community members and friends dig up the root and descend upon the Broewleit’s house in Seneca to smash, stir and stuff the delicacy into the jars. Boxes of tissues are ample and necessary.

Because Seneca borders two time zones, the staggering of 300 diners almost manages itself: the doors open at 11 a.m. Mountain Time, which gives an hour leeway for the church to accommodate both Central and Mountain Timers in a reasonable fashion. The feast goes until a rough 1 p.m. Mountain Time, though the church never turns anyone away, and it is not an uncommon sight to see stragglers drifting through past the 1 p.m. cutoff.

Over 100 pounds of turkey were used to feed the community; this came via four 25-pound turkeys and an additional 4 hindquarters added. Nearly 100 pounds of potatoes were peeled, and 8 gallons of corn were dished by UCC members.

There was a little left over, though in the spirit of Sandhills generosity, the turkey was donated to the Thedford UCC women so they will have something to turn into soup for their ongoing tradition: the Election Day Soup & Pie Feed on November 8.