After 20 years, Mike Burke will be turning over the oversight of the annual Moose Lodge 1122 community Thanksgiving dinner.

Burke’s last year as the organizer has been a memorable one. In past years, members of the Moose have prepared Thanksgiving food and some has been shared for a communal meal while the rest is packaged and delivered.

Because of COVID, all of the food was delivered, but Burke estimated they provided more than 400 meals on Thursday.

Burke, 66, a Fair Haven resident who is retired after 36 years working for GE, said he believed this was the most meals the Rutland Moose have ever served.

Craig Halley, current governor of the Rutland Moose Lodge, said Burke’s leadership had made a mark.

“Mike has been a mentor of mine for many years. Now it’s to the point where all of us who have helped one another on the team up there are mentoring one another,” he said.

Halley said members of the Moose have striven to reach the goal of being the “friendliest lodge in town,” and said that was something that started with Burke. Halley said it was efforts like that which he thinks resulted in the Rutland lodge getting the “Heart of the Community” award from the national Moose organization this year.

Reflecting on his contribution to the Thanksgiving event, Burke said he became involved during his first tenure as governor of the lodge.

“It was a project that the club has been doing for a very long time so I got involved and now … I just like doing it. It’s a great, great thing for the community. I’ve met a lot of people. I’ve reconnected with some old friends that come in to have a dinner,” he said.

Burke acknowledged that 2020 was different but said in past years, he’s enjoyed talking with the people who come in to share Thanksgiving dinner. He said he finds it especially rewarding to interact with older military veterans and the volunteers who help.

“We have a saying in the Moose, ‘Many hands make light work.’ We have a good time doing it and the people who volunteer, they’re my heroes because they’ve given up part of their Thanksgiving to come in and do this and make it such a huge success,” he said.

A perennial group of volunteers are the members of the Rutland Rugby Club, who are sponsored by the Moose, and who have taken on the role of delivering the Thanksgiving meals to those who can’t get to the club on Center Street.

Burke said the Moose members and volunteers tried to do what they have done in the past only following the guidance of the administration of Gov. Phil Scott and the Vermont Department of Health.

“Actually it wasn’t that bad. … It was just working with the rules to figure out how to do so everybody was safe,” he said.

Halley said the goal was met through preparation including cooking more than 20 turkeys in advance. He said the Moose members and volunteers split into three teams, in the kitchen, cooking, running the food to the dining area and a third group that packaged the food.

People were wearing masks and social distancing but still got together a record number of meals.

“We did it, we accomplished it. It was a really great day. A lot of Moose members came in. We did the job. We had a good time doing it and had a few laughs here and there. It was great. It really was,” he said.

Burke said he’s had some health problems that made him think it was time to step away from leading the Thanksgiving event. He has been working with Stephanie Ackley, a bartender at the lodge, who will be taking over. He called her a “nice lady and a hard worker.”

By email, Ackley wrote on Friday that the handoff from Burke to her was the plan.

“I just hope to make him proud going forward. I know how much this means to him, as he’s done it for (for more than 20) years. The Moose is my second family and I plan to give as much heart into this as Mike does. That’s the only way to do things nowadays, from your whole heart,” Ackley stated.

Also, she noted her three kids were there Thursday and “enjoyed helping others.”

Burke, a past governor at Lodge 1122 who is serving a two-year term as a trustee, noted the help of Larry and Amy Caruso, and Halley as well.

“It’s not that I’m going to completely disappear. I’ll be there for advice. I mean, I’ve done it 20 years. We improved it a little here, a little there to make it better. Who knows, I might even go in and lend a hand if I’m able to,” he said.

patrick.mcardle

@rutlandherald.com

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