Politicians such as former U.S. Congressman Asa Hutchison, left, speaks to guests as well as Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, right during the Gillett Coon Supper which brings all those who wish to be seen to the small town for the yearly event. (Special to The Commercial/William Harvey)
Lines of tables fill the auditorium at the Gillett High School for the Gillett Coon Supper held yearly in the small town in Arkansas County. (Special to The Commercial/William Harvey)
GILLETT — Saturday evening brought a crowd to the 70th annual Gillett Coon Supper. The event brings politicians and anyone who wants to be seen in the state.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel was on hand with his wife, as were U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor and former congressman Asa Hutchinson, who has announced plans to run for governor.
Many state and local officials were also talking and joining in the yearly festivity which is a fundraiser for scholarships.
For the past four years the Gillett Farmers and Businessmen’s Club has awarded the Gillett Farmers and Businessmen’s Scholarship to two graduating seniors from the Gillett area. Each student received a $750 a year scholarship that is renewable for four years.
What began as a fundraiser for the Gillett football team is still organized by the club since Gillett High School consolidated with neighboring DeWitt.
For the $20 ticket, participants were served smoked raccoon meat, presented in large pans, along with sides of sweet potatoes, rice and dinner rolls. Pork ribs and beef brisket are served to those who are not connoisseurs of barbecued raccoon.
As one political commentator noted, the dinner, which began in the mid-1940s, is an event to see and be seen. Over the years it has been dubbed Arkansas’ most notorious political event.
Jon Howell said volunteers prepared 600 to 700 pounds of coon this year, but have prepared 2,200 pounds in the past. They started cooking at 4:30 a.m. Saturday, he said, and in the past spent two days preparing the meat.
Organizers frequently serve between 600 and 800 pounds of raccoon purchased from trappers.
Former Congressman Marion Berry of Gillett has served as host for many of the dinners, missing only three, his daughter, Ann Coggin, wrote in a blog. He missed the dinner in 1996 while serving as a White House staffer for agriculture for President Bill Clinton, and when his mother was seriously ill.
Usher Frank Wolfe said 75 volunteers – “all the spare men in town” – were working at the dinner Saturday. “Everybody knows what their job is and they do it.”
Howell commented that the supper, a tradition on Friday night, was changed last year, and the new Saturday schedule worked well last year and Howell has the same hopes for this year’s supper.
“I thought last year went well, and we are sold out of tickets this year so we should have about 500 folks.”