Longtime Sturgis Community Thanksgiving leader to step aside

John Tesnow has led the volunteer effort to stage the Sturgis Community Thanksgiving for the past 19 years. He said he will step aside after this year’s event on Thanksgiving Day. Pioneer file photo

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STURGIS — John Tesnow has put his heart into the Sturgis Community Thanksgiving meal for 19 years and says it is time for him to step aside and let others carry on the holiday tradition.

This year the meal will be served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28.

“Jill and I have made the determination that I need to start doing fewer things. I’m still going to be involved with the Thanksgiving dinner, but I’m not going to be the main facilitator anymore,” Tesnow said. 

Tesnow, pastor of the Sturgis Christian Church, says the annual event is quite an undertaking.

“It’s been such a joy over the years to be involved in it. It’s a lot of work, but I learned long ago that what you put into life is what you get out of it,” he said.

Volunteers serve about 400 meals at the Thanksgiving dinner. Some people come to the Sturgis Community Center, while other meals are delivered to shut-ins, first responders and others throughout the community.

Tesnow said people who volunteer for the event see it is as valuable not only for the community, but for themselves also. 

“One of the things that I cherish most about it is that this is one of the few times of the year, in my experience at least, that when I am trying to get something done it is not hard to get volunteers,” he said. “There is a feeling of well being knowing that they are providing something that otherwise people might not have.”

It goes back to the adage that it is better to give than receive, Tesnow said.

“There is joy in giving,” he said.

Even though Tesnow is not heading up the volunteers this year, he is still getting calls from longtime volunteers, he said.

“It’s a tradition. Whole families come together to volunteer,” he said. “It’s one of those times when different groups get together that might not normally do that, and work together for a common good.”

Another tradition is that youth from the Canyon Hills Center in Spearfish come for the meal and then stay to serve as the clean-up crew, Tesnow said.

Most years, Tesnow would help secure donations, hand out the turkeys and hams to be baked by volunteers, spend the night before Thanksgiving making the stuffing and then show up about 5 a.m. Thanksgiving Day to oversee the meal preparation in the kitchen at the Sturgis Community Center.

This year Tesnow will have a transition team. Reggie and Johnetta Lewis, who had been an integral part of the dinner before moving to North Dakota for a time are now back and ready to step in and help again, Tesnow said.

The Community Thanksgiving Dinner serves a cross section of not only the Sturgis Community, but also from Lead, Deadwood, Belle Fourche, Piedmont and other area communities, Tesnow said. 

“This is an opportunity for people to come together. It’s a time of fellowship. People who don’t know each other get to know one another,” he said.

The meal consists of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, green beans, and pie. 

“The most amazing thing to me is the effort put forth by the Northern Hills community to make this event a success year after year,” he said. 

Volunteers are needed to bake both hams and turkeys, make pies (or buy them), prepare the food and serve the food.

This year’s meal will be served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Sturgis Community Center.

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