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Unionville barbecue celebrates 60th anniversary

Part of the Unionville Barbecue’s 60th anniversary will feature old photos and memorabilia from past events. Pictured, from left, looking at some of these old photos are Susan Long, a Unionville Elementary School teacher assistant and one of the Unionville barbecue organizers; Assistant Principal Bryan Lynip and Principal Sharyn VonCannon.

The annual Unionville Barbecue, held at Unionville Elementary School, is more than just a fund-raiser; it’s an institution that has survived 60 years.
“It’s a reunion,” said Unionville Elementary principal Sharyn VonCannon, who remembers coming to her first Unionville Barbecue when she was only 5 years old. “People want to visit with old friends who come from out of town for the day.”
This annual event, just like the school, is deeply rooted in the Unionville Community. “My mother, Peggy Greene, was in the fifth grade here for the first barbecue in 1949,” VonCannon said. “Mom said they used to bring live chickens, a head of cabbage out of their gardens and each child would bring three potatoes for the stew. All the ingredients were donated, so there wasn’t a lot of cost.”
At that first Unionville barbecue in 1949, tickets sold for $1 plate. Today the plates of barbecue, slaw and stew are still considered a bargain at $8. VonCannon attended Unionville Elementary from kindergarten to fifth grade and never missed a barbecue.
“As a child, I remember the excitement everyone felt,” she said. “You knew your parents were going to be here that day. You knew you were going to see your aunts and uncles. It was like a family reunion.”
There’s another reason for this excitement. When students become fifth graders, they are allowed to help serve in the gymnasium. This is a tradition that has survived for many years.
This year the school will celebrate the barbecue’s 60th anniversary in an event that has been deemed the largest school barbecue in North Carolina. “The most amazing thing about the barbecue is that the entire town of Unionville shuts down and everybody comes to help,” VonCannon said. 
To help celebrate the six decades of the fund-raiser at the school, organizers invited all the past principals, assistant principals and principal interns. “We wanted to recognize them for their part in this history,” VonCannon said. “We went all the way back to Fred High who served 25 years. He’s the oldest who is still living. He was my principal when I was here.” High began his role as principal in 1967 and retired in 1992.
Unionville resident Ralph Mullis informed VonCannon that he would be coming, making it his 50th year of attendance. “He went to school here and was born and raised here,” she said.
“My mom and dad went here when it was Unionville High School, and their moms and dads went here,” VonCannon said. “This is my heart and my passion because the roots and the history are so deep.”
The barbecue has become a town tradition that is not likely to stop any time soon. Especially since last year it raised approximately $146,000. After the bills were paid, about half of that sum (approximately $72,000) went to the school. This money is used for the various needs at the school, more recently to purchase technology and to hire additional staff to tutor students.
The event has grown tremendously since it began. Initially organizers made 50 gallons of Brunswick Stew, while at this year’s barbecue, they will produce about 2,400 gallons. It takes 14,500 pounds of meat for the event.
There are about 800 volunteers who help with the barbecue. “Unionville Volunteer Fire Department has been a tremendous supporter of this event,” VonCannon said. “So has the Union County Sheriff’s Office who provides security.”
To commemorate the 60th anniversary, old photos and memorabilia will be on display during the daylong November 6, 2009, fund-raiser. T-shirts commemorating the 60th anniversary will be on sale, as well commemorative prints created by Kitty Hardee. The lunch service will feature local performers Village Green who will perform for about two hours.
For students, the school day will be uninterrupted during the actual barbecue, but teachers use the event as a teaching tool. Some use it as an opportunity to teach math, while others allow students to write about the event or make promotional posters.
The barbecue will be featured in a 2010 issue of “Our State – North Carolina” magazine.
The Unionville Barbecue will be held on Friday, November 6, 2009, on the grounds of Unionville Elementary School. The take-out lines will open at 8 a.m. Lunch will be served in the gym at 11 a.m. and goes until there is no barbecue left. VonCannon said this usually occurs around 3 or 4 p.m.

Written by: Deb Coates Bledsoe, UCPS Communications Coordinator
Posted: Oct 30, 2009 by Deb Coates Bledsoe, UCPS Communications Coordinator

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