Westshore: Thanksgiving memories


Pam Fechter,  50

Planning Coordinator, City of Avon

I have always loved the holiday season; the look in a child's eyes, and the laughter at the dinner table. My most favorite memory of all was Thanksgiving 2018. I will always be grateful to Charles and Ella Venneri for opening their home and hearts and allowing me the last Thanksgiving with my entire family surrounding me. We never know what curves life will throw and when it will be the last time we are with the people we love.  Make the most of every moment and cherish the ones you love. We never know what struggles the people around us are going through. This time of year, take a moment to smile at a stranger; it may be the only one they receive. Mom - we will always miss you and you will continue to share our Thanksgivings if only in our hearts.


Tony Tomanek, 69

President, Heritage Avon Lake

Thanksgiving, 1957

As a child growing up in Avon Lake, Thanksgiving was always a special day. Perhaps the best part for me was that we, the family, were all together. My parents owned a small local watering hole named “Ted’s Place” (named after my father). Dad was a carpenter in the family tradition of builders and worked every week day until 4:30. He would come home, eat dinner, and go to work in the “stand” until closing every day except Sundays. He was always working. Any time we could have the family together for a meal was a big deal to me. Having the family together is still a big deal to me. Thanksgiving at my house was a time of family. My mom would get up early and put the turkey in a roaster that we only used it at Thanksgiving, it seemed. The smell would waft through the house, such a wonderful aroma. Before dinner we would all gather around the small black and white television and watch the Macy’s Parade, waiting for the real Santa to appear. That was always a big deal (still is). The best part was everyone sitting together for our meal. Afterward we would argue to see which two of us got the wishbone.

I don’t remember ever winning that competition. Wonderful time. I’m so lucky.


Kristina Dobos Buller, 47

Principal of Avon High School

Blessed with the best grandparents, I was graced with both a Papa and a Gigi through my 40s.  They were of the Great Depression and little did I understand as a child their pride behind the abundance of food we shared during holidays. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving remains four generations of women in one family kitchen. We mastermind the family’s coveted recipes that Gigi never bothered to write down but recent generations were wise to attempt to calculate while we still had Gigi as our guide. As youngsters, our roles in the kitchen were small; opening cans, measuring ingredients, and washing dishes. Through a right-of-passage, we earned a dish and became the leads over new generations.  No one, however, could touch the stuffing beside Gigi. She was the artisan over this dish. The bowl was massive and as she mixed the stuffing by hand, she was required to stand on a stepstool to get leverage over the bowl. Any turkey would do, as she would say “a bird’s a bird,” but stuffing, that was what defined the meal. 

Today, my sister makes the stuffing as the family host. Luckily, we managed to capture the recipe and still feel Gigi’s presence through the delectable flavor.


Bryan Jensen, 59

Mayor of Avon

The Jensen Family Thanksgiving is always celebrated the Saturday after Thanksgiving and it has been that way since I was a young child. My father owned a greenhouse and of course we all worked for the family business. A typical Thanksgiving Day for most people might be spending the day visiting relatives, sharing a home-cooked meal with family, and maybe watching some football on TV. For our family, on Thanksgiving morning, we were up early and were at the greenhouse to put in a full day’s work because that is what was needed.  The holidays were a very busy time for the greenhouse and the work had to get done — so we did it.

What was important to my Dad was that we were all together on Thanksgiving, and we were. 

Because the work had to get done on Thanksgiving, we had our traditional Thanksgiving dinner the following Saturday. I have such fond memories of those Thanksgivings, both the actual days when we all went to the greenhouse to work - and the Saturdays after, when we had our belated Thanksgiving dinners.  All these years later, our family still celebrates Thanksgiving the Saturday after. Our Thanksgivings may have been a bit unconventional, but I wouldn’t trade them for the world.


Bill Reed, 47

Planetarium Specialist / NASA Solar System Ambassador for the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center

My favorite Thanksgiving memories would be from my days as a young GI in the Air Force stationed far from home. Because of the expense, most of my friends and I wouldn’t be able to travel to visit our families, so we would all gather and have a Thanksgiving feast together. This was no potluck where you stopped at the grocery store for pre-made mashed potatoes and a pie. The goal was to get together and create a meal based on all of our varied Thanksgiving traditions. We had a blast making fun of the girl who brought fish, the guy who put raisins in the potato salad and that weird concoction with the marshmallows and coconut. I personally caught a lot of grief about my spicy Kimchi. With this very diverse group of young friends, we managed to have just enough cooking ability (with a few cheaters calling Mom or Dad), to have a feast worthy of remembering forever.


Mark Spaetzel, 56

Chief of Police, City of Bay Village

As parents, family life transitions from caring for young children to surviving teenagers and ultimately watching them grow into young adults. We cherished our holidays with our young children and even those rebellious teens. For me and my wife, the most difficult times were when our children reached adulthood and began having their own lives and creating their own traditions. For us, Thanksgiving was always a time for family, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to gather everyone together. Family was scattered; a child in college, a daughter and her family in Seattle, another daughter busy with her kids, parents in assisted living and a brother and his family in Chicago. In 2018, our prayers were answered and our entire family was present for Thanksgiving. We all felt very rich that day as we gathered tightly around the bountiful dinner tables and gave thanks to God for the blessing of family and friends. We were reminded there are few greater gifts than that of family together as one. 


Sarah Wering, 35,

Councilwoman,  Marketing and communications specialist at Vitalant

To most, the scent of roasting turkey is reminiscent of Thanksgiving. For me, it’s the smell of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves wafting through the house. As a kid, my mother somehow managed to prepare an entire Thanksgiving meal while we were sleeping, us waking to the aroma of dinner already in the oven. The only exception to this rule was the pumpkin pies, which my mother allowed my sisters and I to help with. My mom has been gone for eight years, and I always feel closest to her when baking pumpkin pies, these days with my two daughters as co-chefs. By now, I should have perfected the science. Yet somehow, just as when I was young, we always bake too many pies. There’s always leftover pie filling making its way into custard cups, ripe for tasting. And there’s always one pie crushed on its way to Thanksgiving dinner. Perhaps it’s holiday chaos preventing me from perfecting the process. Or maybe it’s a reminder the holidays needn’t be perfect so long as family is by your side.


Jeffrey Zullo, 53

Social Studies Chair, SITES Program Director, North Olmsted City Schools

When I was in college, living in Avon Lake, my mother lost both her parents in six months. At the time our remaining family were on both coasts, so our neighbors warmly invited my parents, my brother, and me to their home for Thanksgiving, a tradition that continued for many years. We took turns cooking main dishes and desserts. Mrs. Cahill made an amazing Southwestern casserole and my brother and I learned to bake homemade breads. We would have dinner at one house and dessert at the other, following candle-lit luminaria between the back doors of our homes. 


Jennifer Dahler, 40

Head Cross Country and Track & Field Coach, Fairview High School; Group Fitness Coordinator, Gemini Center

Growing up, Thanksgiving was always a special time for me. My birthday is November 26 and my Dad’s was November 29. That time of year felt like an endless celebration. For as long as I can remember, my Dad and I would head out on Thanksgiving morning and start the day with a run around our neighborhood. I started running in Jr. High and I haven’t ever stopped. My Dad was always my biggest running supporter and my number one fan, but Thanksgiving mornings were the one time we could share our love for running and hit the streets together. It was never fast, and it was never very far, but we did it together. While the runs may have stopped when I moved out on my own, the memories are with me each Thanksgiving. I lost my Dad in November of 2015. I still head out for a run each Thanksgiving morning, and bring him with me.


Paul Schumann, 62

Councilman, real estate owner

My most cherished Thanksgiving memory is my most recent. In the summer of 2018 my daughter Chelsea was offered a great job in San Francisco. This required her and my son in law Chris to sell their home and close his business. You always want your children to succeed but watching them move away is hard, and this was especially so for my wife Julie. As Thanksgiving approached my wife prepared a feast for the rest of our family. What she didn’t know is that my daughter managed to get home for the holiday, and the rest of the family snuck her in to surprise her mother. We all were so moved and so happy. My wife cried tears of joy. It was the best Thanksgiving.


Beth Reitz, 60, 

Activities coordinator, North Olmsted Senior Center

Every year Thanksgiving seems to ignite the holiday season with the expectations of close family and friends, delicious food traditions and fun holiday cheer. One memorable year my husband and I decided to deliver meals to shut-ins as our immediate family was going to be out of town, so we were not having dinner together. We were humbled by the graciousness of those we were bringing meals to as they offered their food to us when they heard we were not going to have dinner with family. As we finished our deliveries, close friends called to wish us Happy Thanksgiving. They would not hear of us eating alone and insisted we join their family celebration. It was so spontaneous and unexpected and we had one of the best holidays ever.  The holidays truly are about the people you love.


Dave Gillock, 72

Mayor, North Ridgeville

One of my favorite Thanksgiving memories happened when I was about 10. Mom got up real early, preheated the oven and prepared the Thanksgiving turkey in the small  home they lived in. Dad and I and my cousins went hunting after a while and later returned home in preparation for a great dinner. Lo and behold, it was found that with everything going on, all the relatives running around and the busyness of the day, Mom had forgotten to actually put the turkey in the oven. Fortunately,  it just meant everyone had to stay a little longer and enjoy the company. 


Jennifer Winkler, 32

Manager, North Ridgeville Branch Library

In 2013, it was my first Thanksgiving as a newlywed and my first holiday without any grandparents. As was tradition, we were going to my parents for dinner. Since my grandparents were no longer with us, I wanted to surprise my mom by making by grandmother’s scalloped potatoes and sweet potato casserole. Culinary arts are not my forte, so I was nervous. Early afternoon, I received a fanatic call from my mom. Her oven had quit working. With the turkey dressed but still raw, casseroles prepped but uncooked, we helped my parents pack up dinner and transported it to our apartment. Of course, the elevator was marked out of order. It was comical. We carried everything up several flights of stairs. My kitchen was hardly bigger than a postage stamp; only two people could fit inside and counter space was scare. After much juggling and ingenuity, we finished dinner and seated my parents, sisters and their significant others at our modest table. What mattered most was that we were together and able to express gratitude for our health, happiness and many blessings. My parents have always emphasized the importance of resilience, humility and humor and these characteristics were abundant in that moment.


Andrew Bemer, 71

Law Director, City of Rocky River

For over 50 years, our Thanksgivings have been hosted by Uncle John and Aunt Cathy.  The family conversations are quite lively, ranging from politics to OSU football, and medicine to law, given the constellation of doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers and a basketball coach in the group. Uncle John was the family patriarch; he was the doctor, clinical professor, school board member and best and brightest minds in the family,  so he usually led the discussions. John passed away a few months ago, and that void will be more than just noticeable. Thirty-eight people are expected for dinner, partly in support of Aunt Cathy, but with everyone contributing to those conversations which had been led by John, they will continue just as he would have expected. 

Name: Greg Murphy, 40

Communications Specialist

Memories: Thanksgiving is by far one of my favorite holidays of the year because of time spent together with family and all of the delicious food! I don’t have a specific memory to highlight since each Thanksgiving is filled with moments of laughter and joy with family. Sitting down for dinner with my family on Thanksgiving Day and seeing my children with their cousins at the kid’s table always puts a smile on my face. The constant laughing, eating turkey smothered in gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, and having the opportunity to spend quality time together with family is what makes the holiday special for me. And of course, who doesn’t like leftovers the next day!


Anne Godec, 33

Manager, Domonkas Branch Library, Sheffield Lake

For me, when I think of Thanksgiving, I always think of the National Dog Show. Every year, my family and I all pile in front of the TV and cheer on our favorite breeds. Over the years, we’ve mastered the art of arranging all the cooking and cleaning so that we have a two-hour window to watch the show. Last year was even more special since we traveled to Philadelphia the weekend before Turkey Day to watch the competition live. None of us ever favor the same breed so inevitably there will be some good-natured teasing. Once the winner is announced, someone is gloating and someone is complaining about how their favorite “got robbed!” The day wouldn’t be complete without our annual tradition.


Julia Pyle, 20

college student

In 2017, I traveled to New York City for Thanksgiving with my mom. We have traveled all of the United States, but at that time I had never been to New York City. We woke up at 6 a.m. Thanksgiving Day to take the train and then the subway to downtown for the Macy's Day Parade. I was all bundled up in layers and layers of clothing alongside my mom. Once we made it, we walked to Central Park. New York City is so stunning in autumn. It was a cold day, but it was sunny. The colors of the leaves made me feel like this was the best way to spend Thanksgiving even though it was not how I traditionally spent it. I have always watched the parade on television growing up, but to finally see it in person was a dream coming to life. We were able to see all of the people controlling the float on the ground as they pulled down the strings that controlled every movement. From this experience, I learned that the most important part of Thanksgiving was finding a sense of happiness and togetherness. I found this with my mom in New York City. 


Jennifer Bernard

Facility Director, Lorain Veterans Administration Outpatient Clinic, Sheffield Village

While I love all Thanksgivings —  I’m always blessed to be with family — a special Thanksgiving memory I have is from 2014. My then 7-year-old son, Charlie, heard about a “Turkey Dash” and, knowing that I ran races, asked if he and I could run the race together on Thanksgiving morning. While I was hesitant to wake up so early on a day off, I was extremely proud of my son for wanting to take part in a healthy, fun activity (and the mom in me so thrilled that he wanted to run the race together!) It was very cold, but my little guy did great — I was so proud! We finished the race together. We wore our turkey hats, although Charlie’s went to his brother, Brenden, who was cheering us on. We were able to finish the day with family, including my twin’s family who travels in from out of state, and enjoy the day together.


Andrew Smith, 41

School social worker, Sheffield-Sheffield Lake Schools

Growing up in rural Conneaut, Ohio, lent itself to being a part of rail and iron ore history. A memorable event from childhood was spending Thanksgiving at grandma and grandpa’s house, a yearly tradition. The house was adjacent to the switching yard for the former Nickel Plate Railroad. There was an immense iron walk bridge, built in the late 1800s, that provided a walkway for workers to make their way from the southern part of the city to the north side. This was for use prior to automobiles, and was necessary to cross a rail yard of 40 train tracks. The bridge was torn down on Thanksgiving Day in 1990. Thanksgiving Day was chosen, as reported by the contractor, to limit the number of people being outside in the area. The bridge was demolished by a contractor with use of 4-foot torch extenders, and was dropped all in one piece. The contractor placed piles of railroad ties underneath the bridge so when it fell to the ground it wouldn’t damage the rails, which were still active at the time. We were able to look around, up close, and see tons of iron, being scrapped away from nearly a century of stories. The life and history of hometowns is something unique, and I am forever thankful and appreciative.


Lydia Gadd, 54

Director, Senior and Community Services

I am a first-generation American. My parents emigrated here from Slovenia in the early 1950s. Of all

the American holiday traditions, Thanksgiving is one that resonated most with them. My mom says it is because she loves the idea of a holiday celebrating gratitude. Since the holiday was inspired by this

country’s earliest immigrants, I can see that my parents’ connection to it is quite natural. They are very patriotic, grateful, and proud to be American! Our Thanksgiving holiday included a dinner gathering with our extended family although the traditional menu had some European twists. Yes, we had turkey and stuffing, but we also had Slovenian sausage and a couple of other meats. Instead of green bean casserole and pumpkin pie, there was always stuffed cabbage and apple strudel. As the years went by, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes made their way to the table as a sidekick to “tenstan krompir” (Slovenian home-fried potatoes), which was clearly in the starring role of the potato world. Dinner rolls weren’t necessary, as we had traditional “potica” (nut rolls). The dinner is always feast-worthy, but like my parents, my favorite part of Thanksgiving isn’t any particular memory, or food, but just simply enjoying a national day of purposeful gratitude.


Andrew Mangels, 50

Director, Westlake Porter Public Library

Since all our family is back in Missouri it can be hard, and expensive, to get back for the holidays. So one year, my wife and three kids and I went to Cincinnati for Thanksgiving. We had signed up to volunteer for Fall Feast at Duke Energy Center, which strives to “change our community for the better through celebration, connection, and the passion to serve others.” Our volunteer job was to sit at a table and just talk with people. Many people came and went from our table and all of them were there because they didn’t have anywhere else to be on Thanksgiving. They were open with their stories of homelessness, abuse and loss of family, yet at the same time the joy of sharing a meal with others for the holidays was real and meaningful. Best Thanksgiving ever.

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