What started as a small family gathering on Thanksgiving Day more than 50 years ago has multiplied in size and continues to be a holiday tradition. The best part? I’m lucky enough to be a part of it. Thanks to several family members, I was able to piece together the history and memories of the special reunion.

Thanksgiving Day in 1967 landed on November 23rd, Otillia (Tillie) Scherschligt’s birthday. She and husband John had a family gathering to celebrate both occasions with their children Helen, John, Ray, Les and Art and a few other family members.

The gathering was held in an apartment’s gathering room in Woonsocket, SD and later continued as the Scherschligt’s moved to Tabor, SD. Karen Harrington remembers a table set up on the porch where the children ate, and family later played Scat (31) with nickels. “Grandpa Scherschligt made wine,

and he would always bring some wine out to the kids table and let us have some. We always had turkey and Grandma Scherschligt made the best dressing,” she recalls.

The dressing, a family secret, is still made at the annual gathering today.

The gathering continued to move as the family continued to get larger, moving from the Tabor home to the Tabor Legion Hall, the basement of a Catholic church in Lesterville, SD then to the Lesterville Hall where it remains to this day. The reunion draws about 80-100 people with the largest attendance around 120 family members.

Once the gathering moved to the Lesterville Hall, it became tradition for everyone present to gather in a large circle to say grace and the Lord’s Prayer before dining. Art Scherschligt would stand in the middle of the circle with a bulky, prehistoric camcorder rested on his shoulder, turning a full 360 degrees to include everyone in the video. At one point, the family started a count of those present, going one by one through the circle with each person calling out the next number. This tradition continues while Mary Potts takes pictures of each family as they are lined up for the feast.

It takes a lot of food to feed nearly a hundred hungry mouths and the family never comes up short. If you leave this holiday feast hungry, it’s your own fault. Walking into the hall before the meal, which starts promptly at 12:00, always hits me with a succulent warm scent of turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes. As the time draws closer to noon, the counter and dessert table start to fill up with bowls and trays of food until there’s no room for anything more.

The main course of turkey, potatoes, stuffing, dumplings and sauerkraut was always the base for the German/Czech meal. The gravy didn’t come until years later, when an in-law of a different nationality asked why it wasn’t included. They hadn’t considered gravy before; many used butter, corn, cranberries or sauerkraut on their potatoes instead.

The preparation of no less than four turkeys, forty pounds of potatoes and about 150 dumplings is a team effort spread through several generations. When John and Tillie were no longer able to host the meal, their children Helen, John, Ray, Les and Art worked together to prepare it. They would gather the day before Thanksgiving at the hall, peeling the potatoes, mixing the stuffing and preparing the turkeys in Dutch ovens before putting everything in the cooler overnight. The dumplings were prepared ahead of time, Helen would have them made and in the freezer until the big day.

The turkeys would be pulled out of the cooler to start cooking in roasters before the sun came up on Thanksgiving morning, being checked on several times before the meal. This tradition, like most of the others, has been passed down to the next generation. Paul and Jean Scherschligt now take charge of this task as they live near the hall.

Other family members would meet around 10:30 to carve the turkeys, mash the potatoes and cook the rest of the food. The rest of the family, now into the 6th generation, would start coming around 11:00, several traveling from out of state for the gathering.

The reunion didn’t end after the meal as many would chat with others to catch up on the year’s events, often starting off their greeting with a warm hug. I always know who I’m sure to get a hug from, one of my favorite parts of the reunion. Children would gather to play and weather permitting, many played catch or football outside. Others would gather on the stage to watch a movie playing on a TV and VCR stand.

Another event that became popular for the children was John Scherschligt playing piano on the stage. Though John couldn’t read music, he was very talented in playing music by ear. Karen Lange recalls,

“That piano was always busy (with) Uncle Johnny playing or little kids banging around!” Bernadette Nesheim remembers how John loved the children and entertained them by rattling his teeth. (I admit, it took me a few years to figure out how he could do this).

As the afternoon continued, several adults would play board and card games. At one point, Tom Maxwell led a Newlywed Game, the popular game was hilarious for many and left some laughing until tears rolled down their faces. Trivial Pursuit soon became a tradition once the first version of the game rolled out (the best version, according to some). As some of the great grandkids got older, teams became generational; there was stiff competition in the family. As Crystal Johnson comments about skilled competitor Warren Scherschligt, “You would have to either not look at the answer or look at it and immediately think of something else because he would get it out of your head. He’d talk himself into the right answer.”

The game always made good entertainment for the spectators.

Other tables were filled of families talking or looking for the best sales in the Black Friday ads while many grazed on the various snacks put out. There were always those that stayed into the evening hours, filling up on the abundance of delicious leftovers.

As Rose Schwarz reflects on the reunion, “There is total harmony on this day. We all come from different jobs, careers, political views, but all is set aside. I can honestly say from all the years that I’ve been there I have never seen an argument or verbal disagreement. Grandpa and Grandma would be proud of the family they raised.”

Though the holiday gathering has changed over the years and some family members are present in spirit rather than in person, the heart of the tradition stays the same - count your blessings and take time to gather with those you love and cherish.