Bill Hahn reminisces about his experiences volunteering for the Thomaston 4th of July, in his office at The Country Inn, Camden (photo by Catinka Knoth)
Bill Hahn, 4th of July Volunteer Chicken Barbecue Pit Master of 25 Years, to Retire Tongs & Mitt
Thomaston - Volunteer Bill Hahn has seen to it for 25 years that the Chicken Barbecue at the 4th of July Celebration be ready to serve 350-400 dinners as soon as the parade ends at Noon. This year will be his last. The 4th of July Committee will give him a special send-off honoring his services in providing the traditional meal. The committee also seeks a replacement to take over and continue the operation, which has been an important fundraiser for the festivities.
Hahn first got involved with volunteering for the 4th of July in Thomaston when it was organized by the 'Breakfast Club', with community members such as Lucy Mayo and Sally Hill. "Back then you had to go through a rites of passage working first at making the popcorn, then perhaps doing the cotton candy." said Hahn in a recent interview.
He tells that the Firemen's Association used to put on the chicken barbecue as a fundraiser for its organization. A private vendor then took over the concession for a few years. When the committee found itself with no vendor to run the concession one year, Hahn decided he could take it over as a fundraiser for the event. He had just moved back to Thomaston, from Portland, for his development construction company. In Portland he had been working for the phone company, and occasionally helped a co-worker put on chicken barbecues at corporate affairs. Hahn knew what was needed to put on a large scale barbecue.
For the first few years his friend helped him put on the barbecue for Thomaston's festivities. Hahn continued to borrow his friend's pits, traveling the two Portland round trips. These were the only pits available to Hahn that were large enough for the purpose. According to Hahn, it requires a large set-up to cook the quantity of chickens that can be ready and served during that one hour after the parade when hungry diners crush onto the festivity grounds.
Several years later, local businessman Bob Liberty had a large set of pits specially made to use for a big yearly charity bike ride event he was involved with. Hahn borrowed those pits for years, until he finally inherited them. Every year he and his regular crew of 6-8 volunteers haul them out and set them up along with a dining tent, tables and chairs. Hahn says they use the same tables that fellow townsman Albert Harjula built for the festivities around 30 years ago. The tables need replacing.
He jokes that he wants "to see it keep smudging out the craft tent when the pits get smoking. It has been at the same location along the fence behind the craft tent and Masonic Hall so long that the grass no longer grows there. This 4th of July dining tradition needs someone to make sure that keeps happening!" Hahn would help train a new group willing to take it over. He feels it is important that young people get involved with volunteering with the festivities. He says that all the main activities of the festivities need to have more than one person ready to do a job.
Hahn says that at $9.00 a dinner, which includes 1 1/4 pound of chicken (half a chicken barbecued with Hahn's special secret sauce), coleslaw, roll with butter, and name brand soda, the meal is a good deal. He will pass along the secret sauce to the committed volunteer team that steps forward to take over the tradition.
Hahn is now in the hospitality business and works from his office at The Country Inn in Camden. He has also been serving as a Thomaston selectman for several years. He loves most to be out skiing and to play the piano. He plays two music gigs a week. "You can find me on Thursday evenings playing at Billy's Tavern, Thomaston, with fellow musicians Reny Stackpole, Susan Davenport, and Mike McFarland," he said.
For more information about the chicken barbecue one may contact committee chair Julie Russo: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website at www.thomastonmaine4thofjuly.com