Henry Kneebone receives his Thanksgiving dinner from Raquel Adams, 6, daughter of Ashland Fire Captain Kelly Burns, during the fourth annual Ashland Fire and Rescue dinner at the Ashland Senior Center. - Bob Pennell

Feast of fellowship

It always fills the belly, warms the heart and gets old friends back in touch. It features the mayor serving you Thanksgiving dinner and lots of Ashland firefighters scooping up and handing you ham and turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy and dressing, followed by pumpkin pie.

You'll find it at the Ashland Senior Center, where 55 elders sign up weeks ahead of time for a spot at the table on the Monday evening before Turkey Day.

"We enjoy this so much every year and get to talk to the firefighters about their work," said Donna Rose as she worked on her apple pie and enjoyed live piano music.

Firefighters, their families and office staff shopped for the food and did the cooking. They had a similar take on the festive event, now in its fourth year.

"We saw the need for it and we love to meet everyone in a non-911 setting, where no one is feeling bad or going to the hospital," said battalion chief Dana Sallee, noting that many of the firefighters were on duty and ready to fly out the door at a moment's notice.

"It's a great chance to talk to people and give back to the community and have fun serving food to them," said his wife, Nani Sallee.

The big moment of the evening was a gift to the center from the Ashland Firefighters Charitable Fund: a $2,200 defibrillator that just about anyone can operate to get a heart back on track. It's about the size of a waffle iron which, as Sallee demonstrated, begins playing spoken instructions to you as soon as you open it and, within moments, can deliver electric current to the chest area.

"The faster you apply it, the better it works," says Sallee. "As minutes go by, the chances of surviving an episode go down dramatically, so it's good to have it on-site."

Many of the seniors attend the daily lunch at the center, which is open to anyone over 60, with a suggested donation of $2.75. They serve up to 40 people and deliver another 35 lunches to people's doorstep, says Senior Program Director Christine Dodson.

"This dinner is a true community event," she notes. "So many people pitched in — high school seniors worked on it as community service. Girl Scouts decorated the tables. The Parks Department came and fixed a broken table. Everyone knows it's important.

Joe Vidmar fed his wife, who has been overtaken by Parkinson's. They both used to be very active in the center.

"It's so wonderful to see the firefighters and everyone do this for the community," Donna Rose said.

Firefighters put together six turkey breasts, two hams, 50 pounds of potatoes, three gallons of green beans and two gallons of eggnog, along with many pies.

Serving up plates of Thanksgiving fare for his first time, Mayor John Stromberg noted, "I come from an Italian family that thought you were only really having fun when serving food to people, so I'm having a great time."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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