For 129 years, the Grantsville Old Folks Sociable has been a moment to remember for thousands of past and present Grantsville residents.
The sociable, which is the state’s longest-running community event, has been held since 1884. It began when leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recommended towns hold celebrations honoring the elderly. Since then, there have only been two times the sociable has been canceled: in 1901, when there was a smallpox epidemic, and in 1919, because of an influenza outbreak.
Anyone age 18 and up is invited to attend the event at Grantsville High School Saturday, but the sociable’s main purpose is to honor guests who are from Grantsville or have lived in Grantsville at one time, and are at least 75 years old. This year, nearly 500 tickets were sent to honored guests and an estimated 1,500 people are expected to show up, according to Merrill Nelson, co-chair of this year’s sociable with Debbie Allred.
Nelson said the sociable is something that many older people look forward to throughout the year, because it’s a day they are honored, respected and get to socialize with old friends.
“They look forward to the time they become honored guests at age 75,” Nelson said. “They get to see each other and socialize and are treated with honor and respect.”
The other purpose of the sociable, according to Nelson, is to provide a time for the community to come together and strengthen its social ties.
“It’s a time for the entire community to celebrate,” he said. “Over the years, Grantsville residents have expanded. We’ve intermarried with surrounding communities, so the sociable is no longer exclusively a Grantsville celebration.”
Allred and Nelson have both lived in Grantsville their entire lives. Because of their deep Grantsville roots, they consider the sociable a big part of their lives.
Although neither has ever performed in the sociable, both have served on several committees in the past. This is the first time Allred and Nelson have served as co-chairs.
“As far back as I can remember my grandma went to the sociable and then my mother was always on committees and participated,” Allred said. “As soon as I was old enough to go, I started to go. I don’t think I’ve missed a year since I was old enough. All of my children go every year, except for one that doesn’t live here. My husband has been co-chair and my mother was co-chair, so we’ve had a lot to do with the sociable over the years.”
Nelson added, “I have attended many sociables and I have been involved in different committees through the years, like the food committee. One year I scooped so many mashed potatoes with the same motion that I got a soreness in my elbow that didn’t go away for three weeks.”
Nelson said the budget for the sociable is around $20,000. Money is earned through fundraisers and business sponsorships throughout the year.
“It’s a major, high-quality event with entertainment, decorations and dinner. Everything is top grade,” he said. “This is the time to take your special someone on a date night and come out and share the whole day with us.”
The theme of this year’s sociable is “Moments to Remember.” This comes from the title of a popular song originally sung by Canadian group The Four Lads in the 1950s.
The reason Allred and Nelson chose this theme is because the sociable will be the kick-off to GHS’s centennial celebration, which will be taking place during the 2013-2014 school year.
“It’s an older song that evokes a lot of memories and the words of the song touch on high school days,” Nelson said. “We thought it would bring a lot of memories that people have about high school.”
Nelson said there will be several displays during the sociable that pertain to the history of GHS.
“It’ll be a time to reminisce for those who have connections to the high school,” he said. “For those who don’t have ties, this is a chance to come learn about our history and traditions.”
Allred said the sociable’s historian committee is working on writing a book about the history of GHS. The book won’t be completed for the sociable, but it will be for sale and will contain stories and history about GHS throughout the past 100 years.
“The programs are based around GHS,” Allred said. “Every act has a tie to the high school.”
During the events programs, major educators, school plays, prom themes, and athletic and academic accomplishments from the past 100 years will be highlighted. Some of the entertainment that will take place throughout Saturday include two comedians, the GHS show choir and orchestra, the Butcher Family Band, All-A-Chord barbershop quartet, and bluegrass band Lost Desert Highway.
In the past, the sociable has always had two different bands play as part of the entertainment. This year, Allred said instead of bands, they decided to hire a deejay from Salt Lake City to play music for the event.
“People in Grantsville don’t like change, so it could be a bomb or it could be really great, but since we’re honoring the high school this year, we wanted music played from each generation from the time the school opened until now,” Allred said. “The only way we could do that is with a deejay because bands only play certain songs they know. We’re holding our breath and hoping it’s going to work out.”
Allred said this change also came about because many sociable attendees in the past have complained about the wait time in between bands due to the tear down and set up time of both bands that perform.
“People hated that wait, so we tried to eliminate that,” she said. “And this deejay says he will get people dancing.”
In addition to the dancing, performances and GHS history displays, there will be a car show, dinner and a reception for honored guests. Dinner will include roast beef, turkey, potatoes and gravy, vegetables and cheesecake.
“You can stay busy all day going from place to place,” Nelson said.
The children’s sociable, which will be held tonight, has been held annually since 1984 as a supplement to the Old Folks Sociable for those who are under the age of 18. There are 30 acts and more than 200 children performing in this year’s program. During the day, school-age children were able to watch the show. There are two public performances tonight at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. in the GHS auditorium.
Nelson said although anyone under the age of 18 is not allowed to attend the Old Folks Sociable, some teens are invited to participate as escorts or servers during dinner.
“We try to initiate the youth that way so they can see what a good thing it is so when they become old enough to participate in a full way, they’re anxious to do that,” he said.
More than 150 Grantsville residents have volunteered to be on the 20 different committees that put together the sociable this year. Nelson said the sociable wouldn’t have been possible without the dozens of people who helped to put it together.
DVDs of the children’s sociable and the Old Folks Sociable will be for sale at the event for $15 each, or $25 for both. In addition, attendees can purchase decorations from the Old Folks Sociable. Money earned from decoration sales will be used to fund next year’s sociable.
Overall, Nelson and Allred want the entire community — including those who don’t currently live in Grantsville — to attend the event and get to know GHS’s history.
“We’ve expanded our ties so everyone with a Grantsville tie and beyond is welcome,” Nelson said. “Anyone who wants to share in this community is welcome to come.”