River Suite brings community together
White-peaked tents pop out above the trees near the old bridge in Cottonwood Falls, as the sun shines down on a scurry of volunteers covering tables with black cloths.
The sound of a nearby waterfall creates ambient melodies while the workers finish their tasks as members of the Chase County Chamber of Commerce prepared to host the eighth annual River Suite June 12 in Cottonwood Falls.
Off to the side, the smell of 12 oz. ribeye steaks fills the air as they sizzle on large grills. Steam from the smoldering meat brings sweat to the cooks’ faces, but they simply wipe their foreheads with bandanas and continue their work.
River Suite is designed to bring the community together for a relaxing night of food, drinks and music.
Mike Holder, Flint Hills Extension District, volunteered at the event. He was in charge of managing the 4-H volunteers.
“It’s good for the community,” Holder said. “I’ll just keep a’workin’, keep a’helpin’, and as long as they keep askin’ us, we’ll keep comin’ back.”
River Suite is a fundraiser for the Chamber of Commerce. Guests must purchase tickets in advance, and they are limited to 300 due to the size of the bridge.
A dinner, complete with dessert and a cash bar, was served this year while musical guest Kelley Hunt, an American blues pianist, singer and songwriter, performed.
Carol Coirier, who helps with organizing, said the event is scheduled to tie in with Symphony in the Flint Hills.
“The first year or two, it was mostly locals and chamber members,” Coirier said.
The event has grown to include not only Chase County residents but visitors to the area.
Each year, around 35 people volunteer to help put on the event. 4-H members who need volunteer hours serve meals, iced tea and water.
According to Coirier, the food is always catered locally. This year, however, the Butler Community College culinary arts program prepared the meal — a 12 oz. ribeye steak, green beans with bacon, mashed potatoes, salad and homemade rolls. Area businesses donate money to help put on the event, and each year a major corporate sponsor pays for new wine glasses, complete with the sponsor’s logo on the glasses.
Even though Coirier is running from table to table, making sure wine glasses and table settings are properly placed, she took a moment to say she enjoyed seeing familiar faces come back from years past.
“It’s just been pretty cool seeing everyone come and enjoy the music,” Coirier said, “and it’s really nice to see people come back.”
— by Sean Jones