Potluck runs out? Annual north Clark County event may come to a close

Volunteer needed to take over for 81-year-old organizer

By Justin Runquist, Columbian small cities reporter

Published:

 

As this summer approaches, so does the end of a north Clark County tradition that has brought old friends together for more than a quarter of a century in Amboy.

Since 1989, lifelong Amboy resident Wanda Turner, 81, has hosted an annual potluck on the first Saturday of August at Territorial Days Park. Former students, teachers and staff from the old Yacolt, Amboy and Chelatchie Prairie schools showed up each year, lugging their favorite homemade meals to share.

Often, crowds of more than 100 people would come to the rural park for the Amboy, Chelatchie Prairie and Yacolt Schools and Old Timers Reunion and Picnic. Some flew in from as far as Arizona or California to visit their hometown and catch up with their former classmates, said June McKee, a 79-year-old Amboy resident who's helped Turner set up the potluck for the past decade.

The best part of the gathering, McKee says, is "just getting together, spending the day to have old friends come back and talk about our crazy lives: how many people died, how many got married, how many got in trouble."

Time has taken a toll on attendance, as many in the group have moved away, stopped traveling or passed away in the past several years. And after a recent back surgery, Turner decided she could no longer continue running the potluck.

"I can't lift and do all that stuff," she said. "It's just too hard."

Turner figured she wouldn't be able to find someone else to take over, so she's decided to just cancel the potluck instead. The decision hasn't been easy, as she always looked forward to getting all her old friends and neighbors together for one carefree day each summer.

"I wouldn't have done this if it wasn't so fun for me, because I just love to see the people that we all haven't seen for a long time," Turner said. "I'd like to keep it going, but you just do what you can."

Things have changed in rural north county, she said.

"There's not that many of us older ones left out here that know everybody," Turner said. "And young kids are too busy nowadays. Life is busy, busy, busy, and they don't have time for all of that."

Florence White, a longtime Amboy resident, created the potluck in 1986, and Turner took over as the organizer three years later. The annual gathering grew out of reunions for former students of the local schools.

Each year, Turner displayed her albums of old photos and newspaper articles featuring students and teachers dating back to the early 1900s. And each time, her collection grew thicker as she added more photos from the previous year's potluck.

Turner supplied the paper plates, silverware, coffee and other beverages, and everyone else brought food: ham, pies, baked beans, you name it. Luckily, there was never a year when everyone happened to cook the same entree or bring the same salad, she said.

Once in a while, an 80- or 90-year-old former teacher from the old schools would show up, said David Johnson, an 81-year-old Amboy resident who's also helped Turner with the potluck over the years. Johnson was always pleasantly surprised to see the familiar faces.

Johnson said it's a shame to hear Turner has decided to stop running the potluck, and he hopes to find someone else to take over.

"We have to get some young blood in there — some of the guys that are in their 60s," he said, joking. "I hope it won't come to an end. It would be a sad deal all right."