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Immersed in Arkansas Culture: Coon Supper Brings Arkansas County Together

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You’re driving down Highway 165, headed southeast. You pass a sign that says “Welcome to Gillett: Home of the Coon Supper.” A couple buildings pass, and then the town is gone. Little do most people know, this tiny town of about 700 people holds one of this state’s greatest traditions: the coon supper.

Started in the 1930’s, the coon supper long served as the primary fundraiser for the Gillett Wolves football team. Because of the economic crash that happened at the time, raccoon was one of the only foods that the football team could afford to serve at their dinner. In the late 1900’s, the Coon Supper became a major stop on the grassroots campaign trail for Arkansas politicians. When the high school shut down due to a lack of students and money in 2009, the Gillett Farmers and Businessmen Club continued the tradition that this community loved so much. The high school boys dress in white shirts and old school ties sporting “Gillett Wolves” as they serve coffee. The women of the town cook baked goods to be served with the coon (also on the menu: ribs and brisket), and everyone gets a souvenir cup. There’s local live music, politicians speak, and everyone in the town, among others, come together to share in this tradition. The money from the event goes towards scholarships for local students.

Back in the 70’s, a local farmer, Marion Berry, started inviting people to his house across the street from the school for a pre-Coon Supper party. He went on to eventually run for Congress, and his tradition grew as a fundraiser for his campaigns. Now that Berry is retired, the tradition continues at his farm shop a couple miles outside of town, and the money raised goes towards the Carolyn and Marion Berry scholarship fund, which pays expenses for a student from ASU interested in public service to intern on Capitol Hill for a summer.

Vintage “Berry for Congress” signs guide visitors to the shop, hidden in a mess of fields and gravel roads. Visitors are welcomed with live music, news stations, an open bar, and the ever so popular “duck bites” (bits of duck breast stuffed with cheese and a jalapeno, wrapped in bacon and grilled).

After chatting with politicians while snacking, the crowd migrates to Gillett High School for the main event: the Coon Supper. Here, guests flow into the gym and are greeted by people who direct them to their assigned seats at long tables with foil containers labeled either “coon,” “ribs,” or “brisket.” Everyone gets some good ole Arkansas County rice and a slice of cake made by women in the community. Live music plays as people socialize, then a blessing is said over the food, and the program featuring Arkansas politicians and the chair of the Gillett Farmers and Businessmen Club commences. Everyone is sent home with a glass souvenir cup and a multitude of stories to remember this unique, fun and historic Arkansas tradition.

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