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Annual Thanksgiving Celebration returns to Community House

By Staff | Nov 17, 2010

Ray Galligan, Jana Stone, Judy Brown and Hal Theiss as pilgrims at last year’s celebration.

It’s the time of year again when neighbors unite to give thanks and celebrate friendship and island community spirit with an evening of inspiring verse, thoughts and song,

And just like last year, participants in the annual Thanksgiving Celebration at the Community House on Sunday, Nov. 21, will give back to an organization founded on the mission of neighbors helping neighbors — Friends In Service Here (FISH) of Sanibel.

“Thanksgiving is about bringing people together and so we’re putting our denominations aside and coming together as people. Taking the religious aspect out of the ceremony and going for the real meaning of Thanksgiving is so important,” said Mary Bondurant, assistant coordinator of the annual event. “It shows the camaraderie of all the people here — one thing Sanibel is known for — and how they come together, celebrate and become part of one another. There’s no better holiday than Thanksgiving to share that. This whole celebration is about fellowship and community, and one of the ways that we can all come together and show our thanks is by giving back to FISH.”

Last year, FISH became the designated organization that would benefit from the donations gathered at the annual Thanksgiving celebration. This year, volunteers (Hal and Nola Theiss, Jana Stone and Ray Galligan) dressed as pilgrims will once again collect donations for FISH as guests arrive for the celebration.

“This celebration ties directly into our mission of neighbors helping neighbors,” said FISH President Elect Bill Fellows. “This event brings neighbors together and so it fits in perfectly with what FISH is all about. We are very appreciative, not only as a benefactor, but that this celebration also allows us to share our thanks with the community. We’re so thankful for our volunteers, of which we have over 200, and the community support.”

FISH President Elect Bill Fellows is pictured with Mary Bondurant and Marj Nordstrom. Marj and Mary are coordinating the Thanksgiving Celebration this year, and FISH will be the recipient of donations collected during the celebration.

The annual island Thanksgiving celebration began 20 years ago as a way for islanders to unite and give thanks, regardless of their religious affiliations.

“It used to be held on Thanksgiving Eve and we would take turns going to a different church every year for the celebration. It was great, but it wasn’t very well attended because everyone was busy on Thanksgiving Eve getting their turkeys and getting ready for company,” said Thanksgiving Celebration coordinator Marj Nordstrom. “Some years we couldn’t have it because the churches were too busy, but a lady named Jean Wood eventually recognized that we all needed some place for residents — and guests visiting the islands too — to celebrate Thanksgiving together.”

Wood took over the event and the Sanibel Community House donated time and space for the event, but it was still held on Thanksgiving Eve. When Wood left the islands and returned to New York, the churches took the celebration over again.

Nordstrom has been a part of the celebration since it’s inception, but it was four years ago that she stepped in and took control of the event, hoping to restructure the annual Thanksgiving tradition to better reflect the community spirit it celebrates.

“I took it over to make sure it stayed a community event and I changed it to the Sunday night before Thanksgiving because people weren’t quite so busy then. Now, it’s very much a community event. All the churches are involved, as are several island organizations and businesses,” Nordstrom said.

This year, Rev. John Danner of Sanibel Congregational UCC and Dr. Daryl Donovan of the Sanibel Community Church, will play a pilgrim and Squanto, respectively, uniting for the first Thanksgiving, as depicted in the illustration above.

The celebration will begin at 6:45 p.m. with piano music by Hannah Czoski, music director at the Sanibel Community Church.

Performances will include the Logos children from the Sanibel Community Church, Bonnie Bondurant of the Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ and the BIG ARTS Community Chorus.

Lolly Murray from the First Church of Christ Scientist will begin the celebration with a reading of George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation, followed by a scripture reading from Father Christopher Senk of St. Isabel Catholic Church, Inspirational Thanksgiving Thoughts by Rev. Dr. Ellen Sloan from St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church and a special solo sung by Cantor Doug Renfroe of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands, dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Murray Saltzman who passed away earlier this year and who wrote a special poem for the Thanksgiving Celebration for the past three years. Mayor Kevin Ruane and City Manager Judie Zimomra are also scheduled to speak.

In addition, there will be a very special reenactment of the first Thanksgiving at the Plymouth Bay Colony in 1632 between a pilgrim (played by Rev. John Danner of the Sanibel Congregational UCC) and Squanto (played by Dr. Daryl Donovan from the Sanibel Community Church).

Fellows will also speak about the needs of the island and how FISH strives to meet those needs — especially with the help of non-perishable food items and monetary donations generously donated by the community.

“Living here, there is always something to be thankful for, and I think sharing is the essence of being thankful,” Nordstrom said. “No matter what your background, it’s time to give thanks.”