During the 25 years I lived in Decatur, Illinois, one of the largest events in this city of 94,000, with 150 churches and surrounding smaller towns and rich farmland, was the annual city-wide Thanksgiving Dinner.
It was an event I always looked forward to and one of long tradition in this beautiful and friendly city. Usually one of the five high school choirs or Millikin University choir would sing. Descendants of the Mayflower passengers were recognized, foreign exchange students attended with their Decatur families and one of the well-known pastors delivered the appropriate message for the Thanksgiving celebration.
One ten-minute segment titled “For this we give thanks” was read. Someone from the radio or television stations, known as superb news personalities like Orv Graham, Dick Westbrook, Downey Huey, Bob Billman or Loren Boatman, would narrate this brief litany of things for which we were thankful.
I was asked to be the speaker three different times for this event that would draw approximately 800 citizens each year. One year when visiting in Japan in early October, I received a phone call at about 3:00 a.m., from Decatur asking if I would be the speaker for this event. I sleepily accepted.
When I moved from Decatur to Scott Depot, WV, arriving in my home state on December 28, 1989, I brought that idea with me. In the spring of 1995, a Rotary Club was started in our Putnam County area. I became a charter member of that club and for the first three years served on its three-person program committee. Our whole county has close to 55,000 people.
I presented the idea of a county-wide Thanksgiving Dinner to the program committee, then to the Board of Directors and to the total membership where it was enthusiastically received. On November 13, 2012, we had our 18th Annual County-wide Thanksgiving Dinner. It was one of the best we have ever had. Legendary football and strength coach, Leon McCoy, was our guest speaker. Every available seat was filled.
I was interviewed by the media, newspaper and television stations. They wanted to know what the real value was of such a meeting. My response included these words, “This event brings important segments of our county together. Some we may not see except at this meeting while others are seen often in our churches, schools and places of employment. The leaders of county government, education, business, churches and families come together to express our gratitude for God’s blessings upon us all.”
Sponsoring agencies over the years have included such service clubs as Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce and the Putnam County Commission. Tina McComas, President of the Rotary Club, said in welcoming guests, “As our country faces serious challenges, all of us can find much to be thankful for. We give thanks to God from whom all blessings flow.” The Rev. Dr. Melissa Pratt, led the audience in singing “God Bless America” and later, accompanied by guitarist Randy Parsons, sang beautifully our state song, “My Home Among the Hills.”
What was started in 1621, 391 years ago at the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving continues in our day. In the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, proclaimed the fourth Thursday of November to be the official “National Thanksgiving Day.” We celebrate that every year and have our annual County-wide Thanksgiving Dinner, a blessing borrowed from Decatur, Illinois.
Psalm 50 speaks of “The Mighty One, God the Lord … Offer to God thanksgiving” (50:1, 14). God has blessed us beyond all expectation and abundance, but He is also the Righteous Judge. We will be judged. Be thankful. Thanksgiving is best when translated into Thanksliving.
Dr. William “Bill” Ellis of Scott Depot is a weekly syndicated columnist who writes on a wide variety of subjects. Ellis has spent 25 years as a radio and television broadcaster and as a guest speaker and teacher on college campuses.