After 64 years, Yukon feast still about helping a cause

Ground Hog Dinner returns this Saturday; menu still the same

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Yukon’s annual Ground Hog Dinner bring out hungry diners from across Oklahoma and is supported by more than 150 volunteers. The 64th annual dinner will be 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. this Saturday, Feb. 1 at Yukon’s First United Methodist Church, 400 Elm. (Photo by Jack Hinton)

By Conrad Dudderar

Associate Editor

Yukon’s annual Ground Hog Dinner has always been about supporting a good cause – from the time the event had its beginnings in the mid-1950s.

Presented by the United Methodist Men, the 64th Annual Yukon Ground Hog Dinner is coming up this Saturday, Feb. 1 hosted as always by Yukon’s First United Methodist Church, 400 Elm.

Some 150 volunteers help prepare and present the all-church participation event, where “family style” meals are served continuously from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Funds raised support FUMC Yukon mission projects and local non-profit groups.

Ground Hog Dinner event coordinator Russ Kline (right) visits with Yukon Progress publisher Randy Anderson and wife Valerie during last year’s dinner. Kline has enough food available to feed 2,000 meals this Saturday. (Photo by Jack Hinton)

Over the years, crowds as high as 3,000-plus people (from across Oklahoma) have come to Yukon to satisfy their appetites at the big community feast. About 1,350 attended last year and event coordinator Russ Kline hopes to surpass that total by several hundred this Saturday.

Yukon’s Ground Hog Dinner had modest beginnings in 1956 – but it’s always been for a good cause.

Sixty-four years ago, Yukon’s First United Methodist Church occupied a small white building on the northwest corner of the property at Fourth and Elm.

Church leaders wanted to expand but didn’t have the funds needed.

Various ideas to raise money were offered until members decided to have a dinner. The big question was, “What are we going to serve?”

At the time, Yukon was a large farming community with many local farmers attending the Methodist church downtown.

“Everybody had livestock and hogs,” Kline said. “Somebody said, ‘I’ll volunteer a hog, we’ll grind it up and we’ll have pork patties.”

The national observance of Ground Hog Day was coming up, so church leaders decided to offer a dinner with grounded-up hog meat as the featured attraction.

“It all came together with farmers having the hogs,” Kline said.

Some people have erroneously believed they were actually being served meat from a ground hog.

“I’ve been in areas that have a lot of ground hogs and people were starving,” Kline said. “I always wondered – it’s a rodent, why can’t you eat it like a rabbit or a squirrel?”

For that first Ground Hog Day dinner in Yukon, it was decided to serve the pork patties with traditional sides of sauerkraut and ribs, new potatoes, and biscuits and gravy.

IF IT AIN’T BROKE … DON’T FIX IT

Since that first year, the menu has remained the same. Why change something that people enjoy so well?

“I have a copy of the original recipe that was used 64 years ago,” Kline said. “It’s always been the biscuits, gravy, sausage patties, the small white potatoes, and apple butter.”

Some years ago, church preschoolers began selling desserts (and soft drinks) to diners – as if they weren’t already stuffed.

Up until two years ago, the dinner was always held on the Saturday before the national Ground Hog Day observance.

Last year, the meal was served on the official Ground Hog Day since it was Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019; rather than the previous week. This year, Ground Hog Day will be observed on Sunday – one day later.

The dinner has been served from inside the FUMC Yukon’s Christian Life Center – formerly the church gymnasium – for several decades.

Over the years, the church has expanded and been remodeled several times to serve its growing membership.

Kline and his volunteer crews are hard at work in these last few days before Saturday’s event.

“All the food has been ordered and verified it’s going to be there on-time,” he said. “We’ve put together and cleaned up all the cookers. I’m still holding on that I’m going to fix enough food for 2,000 people. That’s everyone’s goal.

“I’d be thrilled if we have 1,500-1,700!”

Yukon Ground Hog Dinner tickets for adults are $9 in advance and $10 at the door. Tickets for children under 12 years are $4.

Tickets are available in the church office or from FUMC Methodist Men’s executive committee members

For more information, visit fumcyukon.org or call 354-8858, or call Kline at (405) 740-3551.