Even after 130 years, the Grantsville Old Folks Sociable’s story continues to live on every year through the city’s traditions, growth, and past and present residents.
The Sociable, which began in 1884, is the state’s longest-running community event. It began when leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recommended towns hold annual celebrations honoring the elderly. Since then, there have only been two times the Sociable has been canceled: in 1901, because of a smallpox epidemic, and in 1919, when there was an influenza outbreak.
The Sociable’s main purpose is to honor guests who have lived in or are from Grantsville and are at least 75 years old, but anyone age 18 and up is invited to attend. This year’s Old Folks Sociable will take place at Grantsville High School on Saturday, March 22.
“It’s one of the longest-running traditions in the state of Utah,” said Lola Larson, co-chair of this year’s Sociable along with Tom Tripp. “Grantsville is growing so fast. The Sociable is a great opportunity for people who haven’t been here a lot of years to get to know people. Tom and I knew who each other were, but we didn’t get to really know each other until we worked together [as co-chairs].”
Tripp said he has a similar attitude about the Sociable. He has lived in Grantsville for 34 years, but didn’t realize how important the Sociable was until he’d been in town for a while.
“When I first moved to Grantsville, I’d attend every other year, but as you get to know people, it’s an occasion you don’t want to miss,” he said. “People who used to live here come back every year. It’s like a reunion.”
This year, about 400 tickets were sent to honored guests, and an estimated 1,400 people are expected to show up, Tripp said.
“The Sociable is kind of an unusual artifact,” he said. “The older guests over 75 years old are invited to come at no cost and enjoy a special occasion, but beyond that it’s a big party for the city of Grantsville and it survives because of the support. We have to have something that’s attractive to the older people so they enjoy coming, but we also have to have something attractive to the general population.”
Both Larson and Tripp have strong roots in Grantsville. Larson performed with a square dancing group in the Sociable when she was about 5 years old, and both she and Tripp have served on a variety of the sociable’s committees in years past. Larson is also carrying on a bit of a family tradition by serving as a co-chair.
“My great-grandmother was a co-chair 86 years ago,” Larson said. “Her name was Goldie Judd Johnson.”
The budget for the Sociable is about $25,000, Tripp said. The funding for the budget comes mostly from ticket sales and financial and in-kind donations.
“We have tremendous community support,” Tripp said. “The Sociable survives in a substantial degree on donations.”
The theme of this year’s sociable is “Our Story Lives On.” Tripp said originally, he and Larson thought the words came from a song, but later learned that wasn’t the case.
“The theme was just one that came together,” he said. “We have everything centered on the theme, from the decorations to the displays. There will be different sections of displays that are designed to tell Grantsville’s stories, whether it’s athletic, personal histories or romance. The program will follow that theme as well.”
This year’s program will feature several different acts from music to dance. One of the most anticipated performances will come from one of the Sociable’s honored guests, Lowell Hicks. Hicks, who just turned 100 years old in December, will be playing the marimba, a percussion instrument consisting of a set of wooden bars struck with mallets to produce musical tones, during the program.
“He has performed in the Sociable before,” Tripp said. “We’ve had a lot of requests for him to perform.”
In the past, the Sociable has always had two different bands play as part of the entertainment. Last year, a deejay provided the music instead. Larson and Tripp felt that having the deejay was a success, and they’ve chosen to do the same this year.
“The music will start out with music appropriate for our honored guests and then it will evolve into something more modern as the night goes on,” Tripp said.
In addition to the dancing, programs and story displays, there will be a car show, reception for honored guests, hospitality room and dinner. Dinner will include roast pork, potatoes and gravy, salad, rolls and cheesecake.
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 31 acts and more than 210 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. Tickets are $1 each.
“The theme for the Children’s Sociable is ‘Our Story Plays On,’” Tripp said. “It’s kind of a play off the main theme. The children will perform mostly music and dance [numbers].”
Although those under the age of 18 are not allowed to attend the Old Folks Sociable, some junior high and high school students are invited to participate as servers during dinner.
“It’s kind of a long standing tradition that when you reach a certain age, you get to come and serve dinner,” Tripp said.
More than 200 Grantsville residents have volunteered to be on the 15 different committees that put together this year’s Sociable.
“That’s not including the people who are performing in the programs,” Larson said. “It really takes the whole community to put on the Sociable.”
The co-chairs for next year’s Sociable will be announced at the end of this year’s event. Tripp and Larson said they have narrowed down their list and have a good idea of who they’ll select, but they can’t divulge anything until the announcement.
Overall, Larson and Tripp hope the event will be one to remember, especially for those who have ties to Grantsville.
“Our community is more than just the boundaries; it’s the people who live here,” Larson said. “Their stories are important to us, no matter how long they’ve lived here or when they lived here.”