Preston Andrews (sophomore, Shirley), serves Thanksgiving dinner to homeless veterans and Veterans Administration staff during Nashoba Tech’s recent annual holiday luncheon.
Devyn Cossette (sophomore, Chelmsford) serves Thanksgiving dinner to John Conner, left, of Chelmsford and his son, Jerome Conner, during the school’s recent annual holiday luncheon for homeless veterans and Veterans Administration staff. John Conner donates the money each year for the dinner, a tradition he started with his now-deceased wife, Kathleen.
Nashoba Tech students, led by Alysa Alvarado (senior, Chelmsford) prepare Thanksgiving dinner for about 100 homeless veterans and Veterans Administration staff during Nashoba Tech’s recent annual holiday luncheon.
WESTFORD — What better time to say thank-you to a veteran than at Thanksgiving? And what better way to say thank-you than with a full Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings? That’s what students and staff in the Culinary Arts and Hotel & Restaurant Management programs did Tuesday for the 12th year in a row, providing about 100 veterans and staff members from local groups affiliated with the Veterans Administration Thanksgiving dinner, complete with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, peas, gravy, rolls, coffee and dessert.
The tradition began a dozen years ago, but it took on new meaning three years ago, when John and Kathleen Conner, themselves Air Force veterans, were enjoying lunch at Nashoba Tech’s in-school restaurant, The Elegant Chef, in early November and heard about the Thanksgiving luncheon for veterans from then Chef-Instructor Steve Whiting. The Chelmsford couple, whose two sons graduated from Nashoba Tech in the 1980s, were moved by the school’s goodwill gesture toward veterans. They had met in the Air Force, not liking each other at first, until a date at a drive-in movie turned into 52 years of marriage. “As we were leaving the restaurant that day", John Conner said, “we were talking about how generous it was for the school to provide Thanksgiving for these veterans, and my wife said, ‘Well, did you ask how much it costs?'" So he turned around and went back in, thus starting a tradition of the Conners paying for Thanksgiving dinner for 100 people. But that’s not all. They also decided to spring for another lunch for veterans the following spring, starting another annual tradition.
Sadly, last November, just before Thanksgiving Day, Kathleen Conner lost her battle with leukemia. With sadness in his heart and new, more personal reasons, John Conner decided to keep the tradition alive. Before launching into his Thanksgiving turkey Tuesday in Nashoba Tech’s Viking Forum, Conner gazed around the room at the tables filled with folks — veterans who served their countries in Vietnam, Korea and, yes, even a 97-year-old gentleman who fought in World War II — many of whom are homeless and, if not for Conner and Nashoba Tech, likely wouldn’t have the luxury of a sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner. Conner, his eyes filling and his son Jerome (Nashoba Tech Class of 1982) at his side, said, “Standing here, looking around, I’m honored that all these people came here to have lunch with us". No doubt the veterans felt the same.