By Steve Eldridge
BURR OAK — For the past 25 years, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving at Burr Oak Community Schools has been the site of its annual Thanksgiving Feast, and the man behind it all has been a fixture at the school, and for the event, since its inception. Mr. Rick Ultz, the Living Skills teacher, has been employed at the school since 1972, and has worn many hats during that time. Presently, as the Living Skills instructor, he’s been in charge of coordinating the feast for all of those 25 years.
“Back when I was a student here at Burr Oak, we had something similar to our feast, but it was only offered to the middle school. For the first 10 years, it was a ‘students only’ meal, and now it’s not only open to the entire school, but the public as well,” Ultz said.
Different classes had a hand in preparing the food, from baking nearly 50 pies, making all the dressing, preparing two different kinds of potatoes, to getting the fresh sweet corn off the cob, and storing it in the freezer prior to the meal. “King Farms donated all of the corn, so the entire meal is about as close to home made as it gets,” Ultz added.
In years past, there were around 20 turkeys that had to be cooked prior to the feast, but now there’s approximately 70 pounds of turkey meat that’s ready beforehand to be placed in the oven. Ultz arrived at the school “around 2 a.m.” to begin cooking the meat and remarked that there’s “countless hours” that go into the preparation. “I’m walking around with a thermometer all morning, making sure that all the food is thoroughly cooked and ready to go,” Ultz said. “This meal is part of our culture now. Our kids really look forward to helping with this and would be upset if it came to an end. This meal might be the only Thanksgiving that some of the kids and some of the public get to have, so we’ve got to keep it alive.”
There were over 400 all-you-can-eat meals served, and 10 students from three different classes volunteered at the serving line, making sure no one left the school with an empty stomach. “We had one senior, nine juniors and one sophomore responsible for filling up the plates and helping to make sure the line kept moving,” added Ultz. Students that helped contribute to the success of the meal this year included senior Ben Adams, juniors Ethan Boyles, Jasmine Broker, Austin Cole, Addison Eldridge, Braylyn Hernandez, Cristal Hernandez, Brooklynn Root, Jacob Trennepohl, and sophomore Inez Ultz.
To show thanks and appreciation for his involvement in the annual feast, “Mr. Rick,” as he’s affectionately known, was presented with an engraved cutting board to acknowledge all the hard work and dedication he’s put forth over the past 25 years for this event.