New leaders, same Community Friends dinner

NEW ULM – A Thanksgiving meal that began more than a quarter century ago for North Dakotans snowbound in New Ulm continued Thursday with new leadership and lots of volunteers at St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

Many people signed a large “thank you card” for Jim Thomas and Bill Koeckeritz and their families. The two men served as dinner co-chairmen for 25 years before Les Schultz and Ellen Schanus of New Ulm became the new event co-chair people this year.

“Other than new chair people, there were no changes this year, other than a little more food that was prepared,” Schultz said just before he talked to dozens of table servers about to wait on dinner-goers late Thursday morning.

Food preparation for 1,100 meals included 315 pounds of potatoes, 42 turkeys weighing 850 pounds, 315 pounds of potatoes and 200 pounds of squash were baked and mashed, plus 140 pumpkin pies began early Monday morning and continued in earnest at 4:30 a.m. Thursday morning in the church’s massive lower level kitchen.

Dozens of coffee pots were cleaned and set on dozens of tables in the massive church dining hall. About 200 takeout meals were prepared in addition to meals for about 1,000 people.

“We could never have done it without all the volunteer help and donations,” Schultz said.

The community dinner began 26 years ago when a group of North Dakota residents were snowed-in in New Ulm after celebrating a Thanksgiving together. It has always been held in the St. Mary’s lower level but it is self-supporting, not a church-affiliated event. It is open to anyone who wants to volunteer and/or have a meal together.

The next year, Koeckeritz put an advertisement in The Journal inviting anyone from the community to come and eat. Nearly 200 people turned out. Many of the volunteers have been busy preparing for the event prior to and on Thanksgiving Day for decades.

Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at

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