Tickets going quickly as Kiwanis Club's fundraiser Dining with the Dead returns next month

New performers will make their debut during this year's edition

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Tony DiGiacomo portrays outlaw Ike Stockton during the 2019 edition of Dining with the Dead, a role he will reprise for this year's event in September.
  • Dining with the Dead will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 11 at Greenlawn Cemetery.
  • Tickets are $30 and include dinner.
  • They can be purchased at Howard's Cleaners, 1601 N. Dustin Ave.

FARMINGTON — Lots of communities have fascinating characters from their past who make for good storytelling. But few of those places celebrate those figures the way San Juan County does through its annual Dining with the Dead fundraiser.

Dining with the Dead, which returns for its eighth installment next month after a one-year absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is one of Farmington's more popular traditions. Tickets go on sale in the middle of the summer, and the event usually sells out well in advance, as it is on pace to do again this year.

Organizer Jill McQueary cautions that anyone who is intent on attending this year's edition should act quickly, as all tickets are expected to be sold before the end of August.

"We have people who love Dining with the Dead and come every year," McQueary said, explaining its enduring appeal. "People loved the (downtown) historical walk we did in May, and they love learning about history."

Charley Tyler portrays the Rev. Hugh Griffin during a past Dining with the Dead event at Greenlawn Park in Farmington.

San Juan County's colorful past certainly gives them a lot to chew over during the event, along with the traditional barbecue dinner they are served. Along with their brisket and beans, Dining with the Dead fans are treated to performers who bring some of the area's long-gone prominent figures back to life by assuming their personalities, relating their stories and donning period costumes.

McQueary has been with the event since its inception in 2013 and is gratified by its success, though she noted some folks seemed a little unsure about it in the early days.

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"There were some kind of tacky comments — people saying stuff like, 'You better not get barbecue sauce on my grandfather's headstone,'" she said.

But the event quickly caught on, and local residents have warmed to the spirit in which it is intended, McQueary said. She explained that the event is based on a large gathering that used to take place here every year.

D'Ann Waters will portray Mary Hubbard during this year's Dining with the Dead event on Sept. 11 at Greenlawn Cemetery in Farminton.

"In the '30s and '40s, the whole community would get together and go to Greenlawn and clean up the cemetery and have a big potluck dinner," she said.

Dining with the Dead is a modern version of that gathering, she said, although it is likely far more entertaining. This year's event will feature an unprecedented number of performers, 15, spread out across 11 stations at the cemetery.

Some of those performers will be portraying husband-and-wife teams from the county's past, including Cindy Reed and Rick Edwards as Harriet and George Sammons, and Nikki Taylor and Tony DiGiacomo as Ellen and Ike Stockton, while Ron Price as Ike Cox and Jean Bougeant as Sam Truby will explore the Cox-Truby feud, a years-long, deadly dispute between two regional ranching families.

Other performers include Cindy Iacovetto as Nettie Locke, Charley Tyler as the Rev. Hugh Griffin, D'Ann Waters as Mary Hubbard, Scott Michlin as Robert H. Woods, Chuck Holmes as George Coe, Michelle Holmes as Phoebe Brown, Judy Castleberry as Francis David, Jim Fentiman as Eli Rufus Cline and Gary Hansen as William Butler.

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McQueary said she and her husband, Paul, came up with the idea of bringing Dining with the Dead to Farmington after attending a similar event years ago in Yuma, Arizona. She now believes the San Juan County version has eclipsed the original in quality because of the faithful way the local actors go about portraying their characters.

Unlike their counterparts in Yuma, she said, the Farmington actors never break character, always referring to themselves in first person and responding to questions from the audience as if they were living in some bygone era. That makes it easier for those in attendance to suspend disbelief and immerse themselves in the experience.

"You want your people to stay back in a different time era — which is what our people do," McQueary said.

Chuck Holmes portrays George Coe during this year's Dining with the Dead fundraiser at Greenlawn Cemetery.

Many of the performers have been with the event for several years, but this year's edition will feature several new ones. McQueary said the new actors are given a script they are expected to memorize, but, beyond that, they are encouraged to give the character their own interpretation and inject the character with personality.

"We tell them, 'Make it your own,'" she said.

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Proceeds raised from the event, which is sponsored by the Rio del Sol Kiwanis Club, are used to cover the costs of the organization's children's projects, including Clothes for Kids and Coats for Kids.

Dining with the Dead will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 11 at Greenlawn Cemetery, 1600 N. Dustin Ave. in Farmington. Tickets are $30 and include dinner. They can be purchased at Howard's Cleaners, 1601 N. Dustin Ave. Call 505-325-5931 or 505-860-5165.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription.