Since she returned to her hometown of Nevada in 2004, Janice (Sandrock) Burton said there’s one thing she gets to do pretty much every year – the American Legion Auxiliary’s Fourth of July chicken noodle dinner.
Decked out in red, white and blue from her shirt to her sandals, Burton was sitting with her cousin, Thelma Haley, at one of the round tables in the air-conditioned back room of the Legion Hall last Thursday at noon. Burton – spelled just like the famous actor’s name, she said with a smile – looked over her plate of comfort food. Along with the chicken and noodles, which were spooned over mashed potatoes, there was green bean salad and cottage cheese. And if one has room, they can also pick up a little plate with a piece of pie, on top of which the Legion ladies will gladly put a big round scoop of vanilla ice cream for those who ask.
Burton, who said she probably wouldn’t have room for the pie, said the annual chicken noodle dinner is a treat, especially for people like her who live alone.
"I wouldn’t ever cook chicken and noodles for myself – it’s just too much," she said. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t love to eat chicken and noodles, or that she doesn’t enjoy sitting and eating in the Legion in a room where two of her brothers’ names are on the wall of veterans and in a building that is just a block from her childhood home at 1236 Seventh St. The longtime credit analyst, who moved from Nevada to Sioux Falls, S.D., in the prime of her life because of her work, said family brought her back to Nevada. And everything about the Fourth of July Legion Auxiliary meal, from the food to the setting, says "home;" and it’s all another reminder to Burton of what she loves about being back in Nevada.
The ladies who put on the meal said that they’ve been doing this for close to 25 years. The meal started in the late 1980s, according to Legion Auxiliary member Karin Lynch, who was born and raised in Germany and who veterans like Francis Miller have nicknamed "Sauerkraut" because of her heritage. "She’s a very good cook," said Miller, who wouldn’t miss the Fourth of July chicken noodle dinner.
Lynch said usually four to five roasters full of chicken and noodles are made for the dinner, and fixing it begins the day before the Fourth. Lynch said she arrived at the Legion Hall’s kitchen at 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday, July 3, to begin cooking the chicken and boning it. By mid-morning, she was joined by more of the Legion Auxiliary ladies to help get it all ready. The team of women, who also helped serve the meal on the Fourth, include Ann Kurtenbach, Chris Lloyd, Kathy Kockler, Trena Cannell, MaryJo McLaughlin and Dorothy Thompson.
McLaughlin said the chicken noodle dinner is not only a long-standing tradition, but also the Auxiliary’s biggest fundraiser of the year.
Lynch said there were years where they served more than 200 people on the Fourth of July. In recent years, they’ve served around 120 or so. They’d like to see the numbers climb again and have younger families bring their kids in to enjoy the meal, which they hope to continue making for years to come.
"It’s a lot of fun working together," McLaughlin said about preparing and serving the meal. "When you get together and do things, that’s when you have fun. And the food’s always good."
You don’t have to convince the regulars of how good the food is. Those veterans, families and individuals, who’ve been enjoying the meal for years, know it’s delicious.
Veteran David Lilland said he comes every year if he’s in town. "I don’t have any complaints," he said.