When Sue Grabowski thinks about Thanksgiving, she thinks big. Her father is one of 12 brothers and sisters—the children of the late Walter and Jessie Doerschuk—who have spent turkey day together for at least 60 years. As the family grew, so did the meal.

“We have about 120 people now,” Grabowski said. “It’s rare that a family this size stays connected.”

Some members come from as far away as Kansas, Tennessee and Chicago, although a majority still live within an hour of one another.

The get-together starts with Grabowski sending out her annual plea in October for volunteers to help provide the five turkeys, two hams and countless side dishes (including 100 pounds of mashed potatoes) and desserts. The food fills between six and eight 10-foot tables, and requires a hall, which is usually in a church.

Family2The meal changes locations, but “everyone knows their role,” she said. “We always have Thanksgiving at noon. You are responsible for bringing a few side dishes and table settings.”

When asked what the motivation is to pull off such an event, Grabowski was quick to point to tradition.

“I think some of it’s nostalgia,” she said. “I’m the youngest of the first cousins. We all grew up together. We remember those days. Thanksgiving was an outing we didn’t miss. It was the one time per year we were going to see our cousins no matter what.

“And now my kids, they love going. It’s kind of our annual outing.”

Not too many years back, Grabowski’s first contact was done via mail, but the family has since moved into the digital age with a family Facebook page and an email chain.

“Every time there is a birth, a death, a graduation, a concern, an email goes out to the family,” she said.

Along with all of the food that is provided, the family also has a white-elephant auction to raise money to pay for the hall and also for a benevolent fund for those family members in need.

Family3Some of the items are new, and some are not—such as the legendary papier-maché giraffe that has been in the auction for the last 30 years.

“It comes back every year, and if you get it, you add something to it,” Grabowski said. “Nobody wants this thing in their house. It’s heinous, and it has its own cage. I don’t even know who brought it originally.”

To sneakily give it away each year, the donor will donate something really nice and when it’s won, “surprise! You get this bonus! The disgusting giraffe that you have to haul back home,” she said with a laugh.

When asked about the future, Grabowski was hesitant. Her father, George Doerschuk, 87, and his younger sister are the only two left of the original 12 siblings. The hours grow a little shorter each year: What used to be a full-day event has shortened to an afternoon so family members can get to other engagements.

Family3_0“I will keep it going as long as everybody is still willing to chip in,” she said. “I hope it will continue. It’s part of who I am and a part of me honoring the traditions of my parents, my dad in particular.”

Grabowski said her grandmother was pregnant with child No. 12 when her husband died, so “the older brothers became fathers and ran the farm to survive. It’s a tale of survival.

“I think (Thanksgiving) will continue to change, but it’s the nature of life. I, for one, am going to keep trying. It’s important. Family is important.”

Sue Grabowski would like to note that she couldn’t pull off this Thanksgiving gathering without the help from some of her cousins: Martha and Kelly Palmer and the Dickerhoof families who set up, clean up and take care of beverages and rolls; the Dale Doerschuk family, who make 100 pounds of mashed potatoes and gravy Thanksgiving morning; Joyce Fike, who manages the email database for the family throughout the year; and all of the family members who bring turkeys, hams and other food.

About The Author

Summer Moore

Summer Moore is the Your Life Editor for the Repository. Transplanted from Colorado via New York, she has spent the last year getting to know Northeast Ohio and it’s people. She has been a journalist for more than a decade and wouldn’t have it any other way.

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