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March 18, 2014

BEAM: Whatever happened to Ranger Rick?

HIBERNIA — Little can prepare you for sampling raccoon for the first time. Oh, sure, some folks say the dark meat has the flavor of roast beef. Others compare it to squirrel, which could be a fair assessment if you’ve ever eaten the furry little creature.

I have not. Not that I wouldn’t. An overabundance of sake once led me to try raw horsemeat in Japan. Luckily, the same rice wine that allowed me to stomach it also kept me from remembering that taste.

At the annual Coon Supper in Hibernia, there’s none of that. Along the main road, there’s not too much of anything really. And that’s all right with the people that live out here in this peaceful countryside situated just 20 minutes east of Jeffersonville.

Yet, the third Saturday in March brings throngs of visitors to the small town. For 62 years, the ladies of the Owen Township Homemakers Club have put on this Coon Supper. Fewer than a dozen now remain to carry on the tradition.

“It’s us old dogs that keep this going,” said Kathy Gibson, a member of the Homemakers. “We don’t have really any young members.”

Like most of the women in the club, Gibson welcomes everyone as a returning friend. Members of the nonprofit social group have been working tirelessly this whole week getting ready for the event.

The Hibernia Community Club, an old church building they own and administer, needed a good cleaning. The money raised at the Coon Supper goes to its upkeep. A few hundred dollars also gets donated to the Crusade for Children.  

In addition, food needed to be prepared, including the coon. Southern Indiana hunters like Andy Hutsell capture the little varmints. Trained dogs corner the raccoon up trees. Hutsell does the rest.

Turning 79 this year, he’s been hunting the game since age 10. On average, Hutsell shoots 50 of the animals each season. Only the legs, which the homemakers season and simmer, are used for the supper.

Just as with the ladies of the Homemakers Club, coon hunters have also seen their numbers dwindling. When asked why, Andy said people now seem to have more things to do nowadays.

“Too many things going on,” he said. “Too many things to do, I reckon. Back when I grew up, we didn’t have a lot to do.”

For some reason, the raccoon tends to bring in a big crowd. This year was no exception, with more than 400 dinners purchased. So much so that roughly two hours after opening the doors, most of the main fixings, including the turkey and ham, sold out.

Anything that remained was taken to the halfway house called Jerry’s Place by Clark County Democratic Chair, prosecuting attorney candidate and perpetual Coon Supper volunteer Robert “Bob” Bottorff.

Bottorff isn’t the only fella running for office helping out that night. Almost since its inception, the supper serves as an unofficial kick-off to the spring election season. More than half of the diners sitting at the tables are clothed in political shirts declaring their support for a preferred candidate.

Whether Democrat, Republican or independent, the homemakers accept any help they can get from the aspiring civil servants. Many stand on the stage and serve food out of tall pots to the hungry passersby. Others donate ingredients, raffle items or other necessities to the fundraising event.

Clark County Republican Chair and sheriff candidate Jamey Noel has attended the supper the past 10 years. The gathering, he said, allows candidates to meet local residents, and gives prospective voters a chance to get to know those running for office.

“Clark County is a big county. It’s important to be in every burg, city, town and community to make sure the people there know they’re important,” he said. “It’s good to know that every community in Clark County matters. None are forgotten about.”

With more than 40 years of Coon Supper experience, Clark County Recorder Dick Jones also runs around the hall serving guests and greeting old friends. His support for the ladies and their mission is energetic. As much a staple as the raccoon itself, Jones can tell who has been to the dinner before by just looking at their faces. At times, he said, you can almost see the memories.

“A lot of people that come here have direct connections,” Jones said. “I think that’s what brings people back too. Tradition. Friendship. Brotherhood. Sisterhood. It’s all part of it. They’re all connected back to something they remember.”

Jones is right. You never feel like a stranger in Hibernia, even if you decide not to sample the supper’s preferred delicacy. And if you do feel daring and try the coon, make sure to prepare yourself by remembering that not everything in this world can taste like chicken.

— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at adbeam47@aol.com

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