Homecomers brings together families, food

Saturday, July 26, 2008
John Riehn, 9, of Millersville threw darts at balloons Friday evening at Jackson Homecomers. With the points he won, Riehn chose a Pokemon character as a prize.

Carnival life is in Joe Sutton's blood.

Since he began participating in his family's carnival business in the late 1950s, the De Soto, Mo., native has traveled to festivals throughout the South and Midwest.

Sutton, along with family members and other staff, has been managing the carnival portion of the 100th annual Homecomers.

Though the work can be tiring most of the time, Sutton wouldn't want to do anything else.

While on the road with the carnivals between early February and late October, the family sleeps in recreational vehicles or hotel rooms. Sutton said that while the hours can be long, he enjoys every minute spent with his family, most of whom accompany him to the carnival.

Sutton was one of four generations of family members present Friday afternoon at a lunch held in honor of Homecomers carnival workers.

"Since we travel so much together, we're real close," Sutton said between bites of chicken and dumplings inside the fellowship hall of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson. "While we work hard during the evenings, our family is able to enjoy all the towns we go to during the daytime. And we're excited that we were able to come back to Homecomers for our 20th-some-odd year."

Debbie Wells, a friend of the Sutton family, works with the games and food aspects of the carnival. Wells said that while most people don't think of carnivals as family-oriented, the opposite is true.

"Most people who travel with carnivals for their occupations are actually families," she said. "Those who work in carnivals are similar to those who work on a farm. We work hard at our jobs but make sure that we leave time to spend with our families."

The Rev. Grant Gillard, whose congregation hosted the appreciation lunch, said the meal was an example of Christ's love.

"We didn't want Jackson to be just another stop-off for them," he said. "We wanted to thank them for all they do for us."

While First Presbyterian was serving up a heaping helping of hospitality, vendors were busy serving food items that included ice cream, burgers, bratwurst and onion rings.

Coop Dirnberger was enjoying ice cream from the DeMolay booth. Dirnberger, who lives in New Hamburg, Mo., was in Cape Girardeau for business and made the short journey to Jackson for the vanilla ice cream -- a treat he has enjoyed for the past 15 Homecomers.

"I was in town and knew that I couldn't leave here without getting some of this ice cream, my favorite part of this entire Homecomers," Dirnberger said.

For as long as Bill Flannery can remember, the Masonic Lodge-sponsored DeMolays -- a fraternity for young men 12 to 21 years old -- have sold ice cream made using wooden churns. Each DeMolay member signs his name to a backboard of the booth, a tradition for decades.

Each night between 80 and 90 gallons of the ice cream are sold.

"Anytime we can do something for these boys to enhance their contribution to society, we're doing a good thing," Flannery said. "And all the funds raised here to support the DeMolays is money well spent."

Among the churches selling goodies was Sedgewickville Lutheran Church, 20 miles northwest of Jackson. The most popular item, according to church member Donald Moss, was the halo burger, which was another name for a cheeseburger. Moss said halo burgers make up about 40 percent of all food sold.

Other items included the holy burger, which was a hamburger, and a spiritual Polish sausage.

"People are amazed that we name our food items like we do, but after all, we're a church," Moss said.

For the catfish lovers, the Jackson Optimist Club was on hand to satisfy hungry customers. Optimist club member Kevin Schaper estimates his booth will raise between $10,000 and $12,000 to benefit Jackson's youth programs.

"This helps us provide for a lot of organizations for our young people here in Jackson," Schaper said. "Jackson has a rural feel, and folks are great about supporting great things happening in the community."

bblackwell@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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