KENNEBUNK – Ron and Donna Pyle left Bucksport at 6 a.m. Thursday to make the long drive to Kennebunk. Their grandson, Casey, had invited them to his eighth-grade class’ annual Feast of Generations at the Middle School of the Kennebunks.

“We didn’t know what to expect, but it’s been great,” said Donna, who wore a holiday sweater and snowman earrings. “The entertainment was great, the food was delicious and everybody is very, very pleasant.”

Young and old gathered Wednesday morning for the 26th year in a row in Kennebunk, where what began as an informal breakfast for senior citizens has taken on a life of its own.

All 180 students in the eighth grade play a role in putting on the dinner, including creating hand-made menus and place mats, decorating the cafeteria, greeting and entertaining their guests (and assisting with walkers and wheelchairs), serving up mounds of mashed potatoes and slices of turkey with gravy, and putting together a “phenomenally scrumptious” assortment of desserts, according to their menu.

Neighbors and residents of local independent living centers are also invited, so there were nearly as many seniors as students Wednesday seated at octagonal tables beneath festive streamers.

The school sent its handicapped-accessible bus to a senior center in town to pick up some guests with mobility challenges. A Thanksgiving quiz and an 18-question handout guiding students on interviewing “an older friend” helped break the ice.

“I did not know she had a dog and a cat named Bismarck and Muffin (respectively),” Casey Pyle said of his grandmother. “And I learned about my grandfather that he would split wood every day (as a 13-year-old) and bring it in to put in the fire, and he would make his bed every morning.”

Mary McCarthy is one of the teachers who was around for the first gathering in 1986. When she observed the connection between students and seniors, she knew this was something special.

“They’re so alike,” McCarthy said. “They all care about their friends. They’re all very concerned about themselves. They’re all very interested in how they look and how they appear to others. It was such a natural flow.”

After another breakfast in 1987, the event became an annual dinner. Funding difficulties nearly forced the organizers to scale it back to a breakfast this fall, however.

Biddeford Savings Bank, which had recently opened a branch in Kennebunk, was looking to connect with the community. The branch manager, Rhonda Hebert, remembered well the impression the generational feast made on her two daughters, the oldest of whom befriended a World War II veteran and later interviewed him for a high school project.

“I just hated to see it end,” said Hebert, whose bank agreed to underwrite the $1,750 budget. “I thought it would be a great way for us to establish ourselves in the community and show our support for community events and for giving back.”

Between performances by the school’s jazz band and the sixth-grade chorus, Hebert said the bank president, also a Kennebunk resident, had agreed to continue sponsorship of the feast next year.

“Everyone wins,” McCarthy said. “Also, for the seniors, they’re taxpayers in the community. They don’t get into the schools. When we hear about people who don’t want to support education, sometimes it’s older retired people. Not because they don’t want to support it, but because they can’t afford it and they don’t want their taxes to go up.

“But when we can get them into the school, they realize that these children are no different than they were when they went to school — it’s just different clothes.”

 

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

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