On Monday, more than 500 people flocked to the St. Luke’s Community Center in Danville, Ohio, for a hearty meal and a chance to raise money for local charities. The twist: The meat on everyone’s plates used to have a striped tail and a bandit’s mask. The 80th annual Raccoon Dinner, hosted by the Danville Lions Club, raised around $4,000 for improvements to local infrastructure.
The Raccoon Dinner began as a prank played in 1944 by Clyde Banbury and Clyde Cornell, two members of the Lions Club. “Having a meal [at a Lions Club meeting] was not something that particularly special, but of course the surprise dish of raccoon was kind of a gag that everybody just loved,” Lions Club Treasurer Pat Crow explained. From its humble start, the event only grew, with Lions Club members and non-members alike enjoying the chance to try raccoon meat. Crow believes that the unique nature of the event has granted it some of its longevity. “It’s kind of like a bucket list item in a sense,” he said. “A lot of people just want bragging rights to say that they went and ate raccoon and that it was a great experience for them.”
The 80th annual Raccoon Dinner was a roaring success. The line stretched into the St. Luke’s parking lot, with many visitors spending their time in the line catching up with those around them. After paying the entrance ticket ($13 for adults and $8 for children under eight), guests entered the mess hall to get their meals. The raccoons, which were trapped and prepared by a Lions Club member, were the star of the meal, but attendees could opt for ham instead. In addition to the raccoon, guests enjoyed mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, stuffing and cornbread. During the meal, many attendees bought raffle tickets in the hopes of winning a Pointer Acrius 12-gauge over/under rifle before heading across the street to the Danville High School auditorium to hear the musical stylings of the Danville School Jazz Band and acoustic duo the Side Effects, who treated guests to classic rock and country music.
Though many come to the dinner to try raccoon, Crow emphasized the importance of service to the event. The Lions Club, like the Rotary International and Kiwanis International, is a service organization. Historically, it has used the Raccoon Dinner to fund projects to help those in need receive comprehensive eye care, but Crow noted that the club seeks to help anyone in the Danville community. “In recent years, we have specifically aimed the projects at individuals or groups that were in specific need,” he said. From organizing college scholarships for the daughters of a police officer killed in the line of duty to helping renovate the home of a young man who suffered a traumatic brain injury, the Raccoon Dinner is a chance to give back to the community of Danville. This year, the money raised will go to installing new streetlights, banners and other improvements in downtown Danville, according to a press release from the Lions Club.
Given that the Raccoon Dinner is held around 10 miles from Gambier, it’s no surprise that Kenyon students regularly attend the event. Milo Levine ’23 attended his first Raccoon Dinner in his final semester on the Hill and thoroughly enjoyed his meal. “It was awesome. I was a little bit skeptical about the meat at first, but I had a plateful,” he said. “It was tender, and the fixins were great as well. Everyone has been super friendly. And it seems like all the money’s going to a good cause. So I was happy to come.”
Jackson Oberhauser ’24, a Gambier local who has been coming to the dinner for 17 years, had a different perspective on the dinner: “It’s good. I’m glad we’re shortening [the raccoon] population,” he joked. “Getting rid of these varmints. [Raising money for charity] is the only way to do this right.”
For a trio of students, the Raccoon Dinner offered a chance to form new traditions. While Ella Newgarden ’25 had attended the 79th annual Raccoon Dinner, John Kibler ’25 and Amelia Kovach ’25 were newcomers. Kibler, who donned a raccoon-skin cap for the occasion, highlighted the show of community at the dinner. “I think it’s a valuable kind of touchstone of the small-town culture,” they said. “It’s hard to get this level of community that you see here anywhere other than a place like Danville, Ohio.” Kovach added: “And it’s nice in the hallway when people were waiting to buy tickets and were catching up. It’s like a watering hole for the community.”
The history of the event added to Newgarden’s enjoyment of the night. “I had a great time last year,” they said. “And ever since the 79th one, I was like ‘I can’t wait for the 80th.’ The 80th is huge. … So it’s wonderful to be here for this momentous occasion.”
As the Lions Club turned the page on the 80th annual Raccoon Dinner, Crow invited any attendees of the dinner — past or present — to consider joining in the Lions Club’s tradition of service. “If you come to the event, we welcome you [to join],” he said. “In Lions, our motto is ‘we serve,’ and we hope that you can partner with us in doing that [in] some way.”