How one of Dayton's biggest Thanksgiving dinner traditions began

The origins of Feast of Giving date back to 1969.

In 1969 Arthur Beerman hosted the largest dinner party the city had ever seen: a turkey feast.

It was the first Beerman Annual Thanksgiving Day Dinner.

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The founder of Elder-Beerman Stores Corp. had suffered a heart attack earlier that year and received mountains of cards from well-wishers. He returned thanks by starting what became one of Dayton’s most endearing traditions. He put Jeanne Betty Weiner in charge.

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Beerman had just been discharged from the hospital when Weiner was tasked with the job.

Credit: Contributed photo

Credit: Contributed photo

He told her: “You are the only person crazy enough to do what I want,” said Weiner in a 2015 interview, who was then the store’s radio and television spokeswoman.

Weiner got little instruction beyond that the dinner had to be the same as the one Beerman enjoyed at his own house on Thanksgiving.

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Weiner said she told Beerman she would be happy to orchestrate his dinner for the “hungry, the lonely and the needy.”

She found a caterer who would cook the food, arranged to have the event held at Wampler’s Ball-Arena (later renamed Hara Arena) and found musicians who donated their talent to perform big band music on the holiday. “I wanted it to be a fun party,” she said.

More than 3,000 people attended that first year. School buses picked up the guests in downtown Dayton and drove them to the event, where they were welcomed by volunteers. “They were greeted just like they were coming into someone’s home,” Weiner said.

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More than 1,300 pounds of turkey, 500 pies, 90 gallons of gravy and 90 steam pans of dressing were served that first year. Clowns entertained the children and folks danced to the Hal Harris band.

“It hit the national news,” Weiner said. “There was nothing like it in the country. Someone giving a private party for thousands of people was just an amazing thing,” she said.

“The dinner was delicious and the music was wonderful,” she said. “It was what he wanted it to be — a good party.

Beerman told Weiner he would continue the Thanksgiving dinner and wanted it to grow. He died the next year but his family and The Beerman Foundation kept the tradition going.

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In 1988 organizers moved the event to the convention center downtown to reach more people in need. In 2008 the foundation ended the observance after serving more than 200,000 turkey dinners in 40 years.

The annual feast found new sponsorship the following year. In recent years volunteers served at each event more than 8,000 guests 2,800 pounds of turkey, one ton each of potatoes, green beans and stuffing and 1,000 sliced pies.

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“Every Thanksgiving I still think about what a wonderful thing the dinner is. I think it’s remarkable it is still continued today,”  Weiner said. “I still think of it as mine and Arthur’s wonderful party.”

How to go: Feast of Giving

All are welcome to attend and enjoy free live music, entertainment and a traditional, full holiday meal. This year a special invitation is extended to all tornado survivors.

What: The 11th Annual Feast of Giving

When: Thursday, Nov. 28. Doors open at 11 a.m. and dinner will be served until 2 p.m.

Where: Dayton Convention Center, 22 E. Fifth St.

Cost: Free. No tickets needed. Free parking in the Oregon District Garage across from the Dayton Convention Center. RTA and Project Mobility will be offering free transportation to and from the convention center from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you need more information about these RTA services, you can call 937-425-8300.

More info: http://www.daytonconventioncenter.com

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