Volunteer Linda Enearl poses with a life-size cut out of Melinda Huisinga, whose award-winning recipe is used to make thousands of pounds of meatloaf each year at the Old Threshers Reunion.
In 1949, a conversation between four men returning from a threshing reunion in Illinois sparked the idea of hosting an Iowan version in Mount Pleasant and formed the Midwest Old Threshers Association. The first reunion was held in 1950, and the Mount Pleasant First United Methodist Church started hosting a food stand as a fundraiser at the reunion in 1952.
This year, they have marked 71 years of fellowship and connection, where they raised over $30,000, served nearly 1,800 blue-ribbon award-winning meatloaf dinners, 1,000 fried chicken dinners, and 400 of their newest item, the meatloaf sundae.
"It's ironic because I don't like to cook. Anybody who knows me knows that," said Melinda Huisinga, a member of Mount Pleasant First UMC, about her award-winning meatloaf. "I entered that contest at the state fair so our church could honestly advertise that we had award-winning Iowa State Fair Blue-Ribbon meatloaf."
Traditionally when farmers threshed they went from farm to farm with their steam engines helping each other harvest. The women and the children fixed huge home-cooked meals with mashed potatoes, meat, gravy, and pies for dessert.
"This is the tradition of what threshing truly was on the farm, and we want our visitors to experience that," said church member Marilyn Young.
The first food stand was a fundraiser by the Young Married Sunday School Class to raise money after the original First United Methodist Church building burned to the ground in 1950. That group was active for almost 50 years and formed a Canasta Club that met every week in each other's homes.
"I grew up with the Old Threshers Reunion," said Huisinga. "It started the year I was born. It was a way of life to us in Mount Pleasant because it brings so much to the community. It truly is a reunion of people and a reunion of friends. And over the years, I've come to realize how much that does mean to me."
Forty thousand people visit the five-day reunion annually and represent every state of the union and places worldwide.
The net profits from the fundraiser are divided between missions, the board of trustees, and the Old Thresher Reunion Committee. The First UMC owns the equipment that three other organizations use and it must be kept up to meet state standards. The Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, and the Boy Scouts also use the building and kitchen equipment.
Two groups make up the volunteers, one that works the stand and another that prepares the food at the church. Two shifts work through the day. The early shift starts at 6:30 a.m. and makes the meatloaf, potatoes and salads ready to send out for sale at noontime. Around 12:30 p.m. the second shift comes to do the same for supper. This doesn't include the many people washing dishes, clearing tables and emptying trash cans. They have people who ask to volunteer just because they are United Methodist and are at the reunion.
"This is an opportunity for people in our church to get acquainted with each other," said Wanda Thomas, a church member who was a teenager when the reunion started. "Maybe some of these folks are not involved in some of the other activities of the church, but they like to work at the Old Threshers. I've made many friends that I would not have known otherwise."
This year, former Vice President Mike Pence stopped by while campaigning in Iowa. Pastor Courtney Fischer took an opportunity to get a picture and shake his hand.