By Mark Rountree
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Just as they have done for the last 24 years, Winslow and Nancy Whitten made the long trip from Sweden, Maine, to visit Stillwater’s Wanda Hart, a lifelong friend.
The couple’s annual two-week visit always is scheduled to coincide with Meridian Technology Center’s Thanksgiving luncheon.
“We love coming here,” said the 78-year-old Winslow Whitten as he was finishing a plate of turkey, ham and mashed potatoes. “I don’t eat breakfast before we come here. Have to leave room for lunch.”
The Whittens were two of an estimated 1,200 people to attend the 36th annual event at the westside technology school in Stillwater.
“Many of our patrons tell us that this (dinner) kicks off their holiday season,” said Meridian Superintendent Doug Major. “We always look forward to having so many people on our campus. ... This is an opportunity for the public to experience our culinary arts program, and it gives our students valuable experience in mass food production.”
Donna Cantrell, culinary arts instructor and coordinator at Meridian, said the admission price for the dinner goes directly to pay for the food.
“I look forward to coming each year,” said Cass Christian of Stillwater. “I’ve been at least 20 times. The people are always so gracious and make you feel welcome. And the students are doing a good job. I have faith in the future of the food industry.”
Cantrell said each of the 40 students in the department took part in preparing the annual feast.
“A big percentage of our students have a passion for this,” said Cantrell. “Many of them want to own their own facility one day, a restaurant or a bakery.”
Kylie Payne, a 16-year-old student at Perkins High School, worked the tables on Thursday.
“It’s not my favorite thing to do but it’s part of it,” said Payne. “But I like to go around the tables and hear people’s comments.”
Sidra Atsye, a first-year culinary arts student from Stillwater, said that she has a bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management from Oklahoma State University.
She said her training at Meridian will enhance her career plans to become a certified chef.