TRAVERSE CITY — Mother Nature dished up a glorious day for the Northwestern Michigan College Barbecue, the college's annual fundraiser that attracts thousands to its wooded campus.
"I love it!" said Mike Linger. "I've been coming every year since we moved here in '68. You've gotta support what you believe in."
NMC spokesman Andy Dolan was delighted with the weather, which can turn on a dime in May.
"We lucked into it," Dolan said. "Last year, it was really hot, almost 90 degrees."
The event gives the college a chance to host a massive picnic, show off its programs, and raise up to $60,000. In the time span of six hours, a little more than 10,000 meals are served.
Bob Weaver, 81, has dished up plates of food since about 1970.
"We used to have square dances, but we haven't had that recently," he said.
Morgan Young, 20, said he came for a few good reasons.
"Free tickets. I'm going to be attending NMC. Hungry."
Dozens of educators showed off their wares at the event. Wayne Moody, program coordinator of NMC's Automotive Services Technology, displayed a "green" fleet of vehicles.
"We took apart a Toyota Prius, and put it into a Baha car," Moody said. He pointed to what appeared to be a dune buggy on steroids. "We call it the anti-Prius."
The Barbecue's offerings are too many to list, but include live entertainment, a solar power demonstration, kids' games, children's book readings, and the ever-popular cake walk.
Alex Schmitz, 20, posed with a cake topped with high heels, constructed with red velvet cupcakes, gingerbread cookies and cones for heels.
"This is a family chosen cake," Schmitz stressed.
Jeremiah Brooks, 7, raved about the climbing wall in the obstacle course. Christy Savage, his mom, said she lives in the NMC apartments with her two young sons. She returned to college to study radiology for a better income, she said.
"The kids love it here," she said.
The Barbecue recycles and composts much of the event's massive amount of garbage. Volunteers like Sherwood "Woody" Smith help folks select the right bin.
"There are nuances to everything, right?" he said. "The forks are made of corn and people don't feel like they can go into the composting."
In 57 years, the Barbecue raised more than $1.5 million, which has supported more than 200 projects, including the registered nursing program and the Great Lakes Maritime Academy.
The Barbecue was the brainchild of Gerald Oleson of Oleson's Food Stores. He wanted to give the town a chance to check out the relatively new campus, Dolan said.
"The college was really growing, brand new," Dolan said.
Oleson's provided all the food for the first 1956 community picnic and has done so ever since. The college raises as much as it does thanks to all the donations and efforts of up to 400 volunteers, Dolan said.
"It's really a cool day," Dolan said. "It's as much about creating awareness as raising money."