This weekend the largest picnic in Northern Michigan will take place. Northwestern Michigan College will hold its 57th Annual Barbecue, Sunday, May 20, on the main campus “under the pines” from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Just how large is the NMC BBQ? It takes 500 volunteers to coordinate all the activities and to feed the 10,000+ expected to attend. Volunteers will prepare and serve 1,400 pounds of carrots and celery, 3,000 pounds of potato salad, 3,000 pounds of coleslaw, 3,000 pounds of baked beans, 8,400 ice cream cups, 4,500 cartons of milk, and the featured highlight of the BBQ, over 3,000 pounds of buffalo burgers (plus several pounds of hot dogs).
“It is a very impressive site to see all of this come together,” said Dennis Stavros of the NMC BBQ Board. “It goes like clockwork from the bean team starting a couple of days before, preparing the beans at the powerhouse, to the crews setting everything up to how quickly we are able to serve everyone.”
Stavros, a former financial planner, has served on the NMC BBQ Board for the past several years. Stravos, currently the vice president, notes that while the board works hard planning the event, it is the hundreds of community members who pitch in that make the day special.
“The board meets once a month starting in January and then weekly in mid-April leading up to the big day. While there are 25 of us on the BBQ Board there are literally hundreds in the community that contribute to the success of the event,” said Stavros.
“It is truly a community celebration like no other I have seen.”
Andy Dolan, NMC Executive Director of Marketing and Public Relations, says the college hears that all the time about the BBQ.
“NMC President Tim Nelson has been all over the country for college conferences and everyone is amazed when they hear about the NMC BBQ,” said Dolan. “There just isn’t another community-based celebration for a college in the country like this one.”
Since its inception in 1956 when Gerald and Frances Oleson launched the NMC BBQ, the event has raised over $1,500,000 to assist the college. That first year, more than 5,000 people attended the event. For the past 25 years, attendance has averaged 10,000 plus.
“The community and the college can’t say enough about the generous contribution made by the Oleson family and their Oleson Food Stores for continuing to donate all the food for the past 57 years,” said Stavros.
“The meal remains pretty much the same as it was when it started: A very generous picnic lunch that includes a buffalo burger or hot dog, potato salad, baked beans, coleslaw, ice cream and a beverage.”
In addition to the picnic lunch, the event serves as a college open house. Several classroom exhibits and exhibitions take place, and the BBQ ticket also includes admission to the Dennos Museum Center.
The day includes continuous entertainment and plenty of kids’ activities as well.
Organizers are also pleased with their results of the efforts toward recycling. The “zero waste” effort has resulted in an event that recycles most of the waste generated.
“We started the process a couple of years ago, and we have been able to compost and recycle 90 percent of our waste,” said Dolan. “Our goal is to move to become a zero waste event, and with our partners Food for Thought and Waste Management, along with the many volunteers, we are getting closer to that goal.”
Proceeds from the BBQ over the years have funded more than 200 projects at the college, including radio station equipment for WNMC 90.7 FM, construction of the Rogers Observatory, and some of the initial funding for the Dennos Museum Center. This year the BBQ will benefit a half dozen projects, including a ship simulator for the Great Lakes Maritime Academy.
Stavros says deciding which programs or projects will receive funding begins months before the BBQ.
“The process starts in January when staff and department heads submit applications to the board for review,” said Stavros.
“Typically the projects that are submitted to us are for items and needs that are not funded through the operations budget for the college. Sometimes these items receive partial funding from other sources and we fund the balance.”
In 1998, the NMC BBQ added home delivered meals. The Grand Traverse County Commission on Aging will once again coordinate the meal delivery program in conjunction with the NMC BBQ Board. Since the home delivered meal program’s inception, over 3,900 meals have been delivered to area homebound senior citizens.
Home Delivered meals are $6. Reservations for the meals can be arranged by calling the Commission on Aging office through Wednesday, May 16 at 231-922-4688.
Stavros says the board is also proud that the BBQ remains popular with families and is accessible for people of all ages.
“At each board meeting we start out by reviewing why we are doing this and we have all the reasons why in writing. The last statement is to have fun,” said Stavros. “For all of us involved it gets down to seeing all the smiling faces.”
For the past 57 years people have been saying, “Let’s All Do The BBQ.” That tradition continues Sunday.
Northern Michigan College will hold its 57th Annual Barbecue on the main campus from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $6 in advance and $8 at the BBQ. For complete information, ticket locations or to purchase tickets online go to www.nmc.edu/bbq. Call 231-995-1020 to volunteer.