West Union celebrates 70th Ham Dinner
For 70 years, ham, green beans and pie have been bringing the community of West Union Elementary School in Helvetia together one night each year.
The longstanding tradition of the West Union Ham Dinner hasn't changed a lot in seven decades, but with each anniversary, organizers say, there is more and more tradition to reflect on.
This year's dinner will be held Saturday, Nov. 10, at West Union Elementary School, 23870 N.W. West Union Road.
"Really, the heart of it is community," said organizer Aliceson Brandt who teaches sixth grade at the school. "I think the most incredible thing that I've noticed is it brings neighbors from the community, former West Union students, and families (together)."
In 1948, when the current elementary school site was built off Northwest Helvetia Road it merged four small schoolhouses together: Helvetia School, Rock Creek School, Jackson School and the original West Union School.
That year, community member Mary Bennett came up with a way for the students and families to get to know one another, and to raise money for things needed the new school needed, such as blankets, sheets and pillowcases for its health room, loudspeakers, mirrors for the bathroom, and uniforms for a basketball and volleyball team, Brandt said. Proceeds from the dinner also went to various school clubs, community projects and college scholarships.
That marked the first West Union Ham Dinner, and the annual get-together has been going ever since.
"I've been trying really hard to bring the community feel back to it since I took over three years ago," Brandt said. "I'm a third generation West Union student, and now teacher. My grandpa went here when the school first opened, my grandma and my mom attended here as well."
Originally, community members baked hams and homemade pies, with coleslaw provided by Reser's Fine Foods. Today, the ham comes from The Meating Place in Hillsboro, mashed potatoes come from Reser's Fine Foods and pies from Willamette Valley Pie. Green beans and hot rolls have also stayed on the menu over the years, Brandt said.
"With the prices of food rising, the dinner has become a more modest fundraiser for the school than in the past," she said. "However, the one thing that has remained unchanged is the tradition of bringing the larger West Union community together."
Today, profits still go toward scholarship funds for West Union alumni who graduate from a high school in Hillsboro and plan to attend a four-year college, Brandt said. The West Union Community Club — which organizes the dinner — also directs some of the money to cover costs of field trips and materials at the school.
Fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students sell the tickets leading up to the event — $8 for students and $10 for adults — and can volunteer to be servers during the dinner, taking orders, delivering food to guests and bussing tables — a good way to get to know community members in attendance, Brandt said.
"It's great to see our older community members who look forward to it every single year," she said. "It's a good opportunity for the kids to connect with people outside of their immediate circle and have an opportunity to get to know them — get to know a little bit of their story. ... It is really special and unique in that we bring the current and bridge it with our past."
Organizers are expecting roughly 500 guests at this year's dinner.
By Olivia Singer
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune
Follow Olivia at @oliviasingerr
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