Johnson Family’s Thanksgiving shared with 70 persons . . . Feast of all the fixings—turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy

Four generations of the Kareen Johnson family enjoy some of the feast they provide for the community. From left: grandson Luke, great-granddaughter Cora, Kareen, Lindsay (Luke’s wife), great-grandson Beau and son Steve.

By Eileen Evans

Reading about the Johnson Family’s 16th year of having a Community Thanksgiving Dinner brought back many memories of that time 16 years ago when I went over to Lime Springs that Thanksgiving Day to do a story on the Johnson Family’s meal. What were they thinking when they offered a whole meal to anyone and everyone in the community? Did they know how many would come? No. Did they have enough food, no matter how many would come? Yes, they would manage. ”Now stop taking pictures and asking questions and go home and get your husband so the two of you can eat with us.” And I did. The two of us were at the Johnson’s first community dinner, and I remember the holiday favors of little cookie turkeys that somebody in the family had made and which decorated each place.

We were again in Lime Springs on Thanksgiving this year to take part in the Johnson Family’s dinner and it was even better than I had remembered it, although we have been to several other Thanksgiving dinners that they served as a family. But this time I had my camera and was ready to record the delightful occasion. There were people from Riceville, Saratoga, Cresco, LeRoy and Lime Springs, and all the places where the 17 members of the Johnson family now live and work. For the Johnsons it is a basket of memories, of what happened last year to what might happen this year. Their thoughts turn to the memories of their husband, father, and grandfather, Earl, who is very much missed but who is in all the memories of the earlier dinners and how much he enjoyed them. “We miss him,” Steve, the eldest son says of his dad who died shortly after having a massive stroke last year just before the holidays.

The entire Lime Springs Community Center was set up and awaiting the expected people, each place set with a holiday napkin and a cookie “Pilgrim Hat” favor, just as it had been at the first dinner held at the Legion Hall. The center began filling with people who arrived, some carrying a passing dish, others just ready to eat and be welcomed to the dinner.

The Johnson family gathered across the room from the kitchen where the food waited in big roasters as well as filled the tables surrounding it. Each of the Johnsons introduced themselves and their family members, with Grandmother Kareen, in the midst of them and then Tim Lichty offered a prayer for Thanksgiving.

Four of the Johnson men dished up food from the four roasters of cut-up turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing and gravy, on to the plates as each person passed the window, then came the tables of side dishes of mashed squash, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, corn, and other veggies, a big basket of homemade dinner rolls, moving on to the many salads where bowls of pea salad, tossed salad, cabbage salad, layered salad, Jello salads, cranberries and relishes filled the space. Over to the side was the huge table of desserts with slices of pecan, pumpkin, apple pie tempting the diners who passed by with filled plates. There were cupcakes of all kinds, as well as a huge stack of lefse, just sitting waiting to be buttered and spread with the brown sugar and microwaved for another tempting treat. Luke’s wife, Lindsay, had made and baked 90 some sheets of the lefse, all piled high.

Steve said they used three turkeys providing 70 pounds cut up for the roasters. The roaster of dressing ran out by the time the family started to dish up their own plates, but the potatoes lasted as did the gravy, with Steve scraping the crusty potatoes from the bottom of the pan. A total of 70 persons had gone through the line and the tables were filled with people of all ages.

Johnson family members include: Kareen, then Steve and Jill with son Luke and Lindsay and their two children, Beau and Cora, of Racine, MN; and daughter, Chelsea; then Kathy and Tim Lichty, with Josh and Brittany of Davenport and their daughter Kalley Lichty; and Gayle and Dennis Burnikel and two boys, Kyle and Nathan of Holmen, Wisconsin. Luke was only 11 when he first started helping with the family’s Thanksgiving venture, and now was there with his wife, and Kareen’s two great-grandkids. Thanks to the Johnsons we enjoyed a warm and delightful Thanksgiving!

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