19 years and counting.
That’s how many years LBSA has hosted its Community Thanksgiving Dinner. It is also the number of years the Odette family will have volunteered at this event.
Sue Odette and her husband, Jerry, first became acquainted with LBSA way back in the late 60’s or early 70’s. Around that time, they were asked to teach religion classes to LBSA clients at the First United Church of Christ (UCC) in Northfield. They enjoyed getting to know the clients and developed some strong connections that lasted years. “Later when we found out that Laura Baker was going to host a Thanksgiving Dinner and needed volunteers” Sue said, “it was automatic.”
In addition to the friendships with LBSA clients they had made, Sue and Jerry’s volunteer spirit was inspired by several influences. Sue’s mother, Verna Johnston, advocated for individuals with developmental disabilities much of her adult life, working through local and state organizations as an active officer and board member. Sue had a great relationship with her sister, Jeanette, who had a developmental disability. Sue also credits her husband Jerry (who passed away in 2016) for being “community minded and always willing to jump right in and help whoever needed it.” Sue and Jerry have passed their service mindset on to their three children and eleven grandchildren. In most years, you’ll find three generations of Odette’s volunteering on Thanksgiving Day. For a period in the beginning there were even four generations attending at the same time. “Verna came to Thanksgiving the first 5 or 6 years.” Sue recalls. “She lived to be 103.”
“I couldn’t wait until I turned ten, so I was old enough to help.” says Sue’s granddaughter, Emily Holter (now 28) who has yet to miss an LBSA Thanksgiving Dinner. In addition to Sue and Emily, frequent volunteers at the LBSA Thanksgiving Dinner have been Sue’s daughter, Lori, Emily’s sisters Anna & Rachel, Emily’s cousins Alex & Jacob, and now Emily’s husband, Jared. “I told Jared when we got married that volunteering on Thanksgiving at LBSA was a requirement.” Emily shared with a laugh. Jared is now the “coffee guy.”
“It’s an amazing place. Jeanette would have loved living here.” Sue shares why volunteering at LBSA on Thanksgiving has become such an important family tradition. She adds, “My relationships here have made me a better person; not taking things for granted and appreciating the smaller things in life.”
So how long will this tradition continue? “For sure my kids will be doing this.” Emily adds without hesitation. “It’s our Thanksgiving celebration.”
Cousins Alex and Emily
Jared – “The Coffee Guy”
Jared, Emily, Sue, Anna, Jon at the 2018 Community Thanksgiving Dinner