By Lauren D. Ragland
Special to The Inter-Mountain
Editor's note: This is the fourth in a regular series called "On the Porch," which will feature interesting people throughout the area.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Lauren D. Ragland
Pam Jones, with menus in hand, gets organized for the annual Community Easter Celebration Dinner at Orchard Hall.
Orchard Hall opened its doors before there was a door to open. The huge hall was a massive empty room; there were neither walls nor windows. It welcomed members of the VoTech class of 1993 and provided a location for their graduation.
Commitment to the needs of the community continues today at the hall, with numerous annual community dinners including one at Easter for all ages and a senior event at Christmas. Everyone is invited to eat a fabulous dinner for free.
Last weekend, for the 40th consecutive year, a Community Easter Celebration Dinner, Sunrise Service and Breakfast took place for the general public. For the first 20 years, the organization rented the National Guard Armory and YMCA to host its various community functions.
Orchard Hall is a project of the Cathedral of Prayer, originated by Jean Gardner Hart. It was built in the early 1990s, predominantly by 50 volunteers over a year and a half period. For the last 20 years, three generations have worked together toward fulfilling the mission.
Two hundred and seventy-five people attended and worked at the event held last Saturday. Easter dinner was complete with ham, turkey and amazing desserts. Fliers were posted in the Elkins area announcing the Saturday night event at Orchard Hall on Harper Road adjacent to the Elkins Regional Airport.
By 5:45 p.m. April 7, the parking lot was filling up with cars in anticipation of the 6:30 feast. Dinner guests from Belington, Elkins, Harmon, Parsons, Philippi and more were welcomed by Jean Gardner Hart, given a name tag and shown to their table.
"We never know how many people will attend our community dinners," explained Pam Jones, Hart's daughter and co-manager of Orchard Hall. "Estimate high, and then double it because we know most people will come back for seconds, even thirds!"
At the senior Christmas dinner, all seniors and their spouses of any age are welcome. Invitations are extended to six Randolph County Senior Centers. They expect about 600 Seniors for dinner but prepare food for up 1,400. Everyone goes home with a goody bag that includes Orchard Hall homemade peanut butter and chocolate candy.
Preparation for the Easter celebration began the Thursday before, with Hart supervising the marinating of six hams with cherries and brown sugar - which were incredible. Friday continued with the slow roasting of five 25-pound turkeys. Saturday was prep day.
My husband Earl and I had the pleasure of being a part of the behind-the-scene fun in the kitchen. Experienced in this type of adventure, we were both very impressed with Jones' organization in the kitchen and in the hall.
She thoroughly enjoys what she is doing.
This year volunteers gathered from Canton, Columbus and Dayton, Ohio; Charleston and Fairmont, the Elkins area and many other locations. Dozens of the faithful from Indiana, Kentucky, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia had planned to make the trip but could not travel because of the high gas prices.
Students from the Mountain State Boys School assisted in setting up, cleaning up and decorating the dining hall for the guests. Music was performed by Ron Hogeland from Dayton, Ohio, and Stuart Strong from Elkins.
Desserts were piled high on three loaded large tables - the most amazing peanut butter cake, luscious strawberry angel food cake, pineapple upside-down cake, chocolate fudge cake, brownies, large homemade cookies of all kinds.
Friends and family offer every year to make a special dessert for the event - and a great selection it is!
Orchard Hall hosts weddings, class reunions, anniversaries, fundraisers and graduations. The 650-seat facility is available for rent, both the hall for events and the kitchen for catering, separately or together with various affordable packages.
Jones has co-managed Orchard Hall with her mother since 1994. She never imagined how busy it would become! The Elkins native is also the business manager at the Huttonsville Correction Center.
"Just tell me what you want, tell me what you need and I'll tell you how we can do it," she says. You can reach her at Orchard Hall at 304-636-9110.
I hope you join me next week and sit "On the Porch." I will continue to share interesting stories about interesting people - you might be next!