‘I know that the community will band together’: Snowmass potluck on pause again

Event remained on hold in 2021; organizer has high hopes for its return

Attendees fill plates with food during Snowmass Village's annual John Bemis Thanksgiving community potluck in 2018 at the conference center on the Snowmass Mall.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Joan “The Church Lady” Bemis had high hopes last year that she and the Snowmass Village community could reunite around the shared table for the John Bemis Community Potluck Dinner in 2021 after a one-year pandemic hiatus for the event typically held the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

“I’m 88 now, and by golly, I will be there next year when I am 89,” the longtime Snowmass Chapel congregation member and integral potluck organizer said at the time.

But it turned out that Bemis, now 89, will have to count down to 90 instead: the potluck remained on pause for the second year in a row in 2021. That doesn’t seem to have put a dent in her confidence about the future of the town tradition, though.

“We will do this again,” she said Wednesday in a phone call. “I know that the community will band together.”

Just the other day, she stumbled across photos from one of the earliest iterations of the town’s annual community potluck, taken “some time in the 1990s” when the event was still a dinner for a few dozen attendees at the Snowmass Chapel.

It debuted in the late 1980s but exploded over several decades into a community mainstay that usually draws hundreds each year to the conference center on the Snowmass Mall; Joan’s late husband, John Bemis, now the namesake of the event, led the effort to move the event from the chapel to the conference center in 2008 when it outgrew its initial home.

“The dinner has been the highlight of the locals for so many years,” she said.

That community spirit has long included newcomers to the town as well as long-timers, welcoming seasonal employees who had just arrived for the winter and who were perhaps without a place to go and gather for Thanksgiving.

“It’s just been a big thing for the community and the best thing is that it was locals, it was full-time people, part-time people, and it was an opportunity for the workers from Skico to come. … It was a place for them to celebrate a holiday rather than just have to be with each other, maybe at a restaurant or catch as catch can,” Bemis said.

Until that community can reunite around the shared table, organizers from the Snowmass Chapel, Town of Snowmass Village and Snowmass Rotary have again channeled their efforts into support for local food banks. Dinners of years past collected canned goods from attendees and there was a food drive last year; this year, the organizations behind the event donated $3,000 to Food Bank of the Rockies.

“It’s a time to be thankful,” Bemis said.