The Lawn Social, 127 Years Later

Sep 1, 2014 | Travel

[title subtitle=”words: Marcus Coker
Image: courtesy Saint Boniface Catholic School”][/title]

On October 17 and 18, Saint Boniface Catholic School in Fort Smith will host its 127th annual lawn social, an event rooted in community, tradition, and faith. Much like an old-time county fair, it will include a spaghetti dinner, a silent auction, and a field full of games and entertainment for children and adults.

Karen Hollenbeck, the principal and former student, says it’s one of the city’s oldest running celebrations. “When I was a child, I remember looking forward to the event for weeks. It was on the parking lot. My parents would give me a dollar, and I could run wild all night. I think tickets were ten cents apiece.”

This year’s lawn social will take place on Hilary Field, directly across from the school at North 19th and B Streets. Admission is free. Once inside, you can buy carnival tickets for fifty cents each, and most games cost two tickets. There will be lots to do, including paintball, an obstacle course, inflatables, and a basketball toss.

“Each year, we add new things,” says Karen, “but some stay the same, just for the sake of tradition. That’s important because our traditions run deep. My granddad and dad went here, I went here, and my children went here. A lot of families have stories like mine. And when children experience the same things their parents did, it strengthens the family bond.”

An outgrowth of Saint Boniface Catholic Church, the school opened its doors in 1887. At that time, it was a four-room building, with two rooms used as classrooms and two used as living quarters for the Benedictine nuns who served as teachers.

Shortly after the school opened, some of the church parishioners started the lawn social to raise money for the school. The first year they brought ice cream, had a picnic on the lawn and raised fifty dollars.

Over one hundred years later, the lawn social is still used as a fundraiser for the school, which is kindergarten through sixth grade, and has approximately 175 students. This year’s goal is thirty to forty thousand dollars. “Sometimes the money is earmarked for technology, to improve our server and wireless, to add classroom computers,” says Karen, “but sometimes it goes to the general fund… What we charge for tuition is much less than what it actually cost to educate a kiddo, so we have to make that up some way.”

Typically, the lawn social takes place over the course of one evening, but this year’s event has been extended to two nights. A few activities, like the spaghetti supper and silent auction, will be held indoors. There will also be a dollar raffle, with prizes that include a side of beef, a flat screen television, and cash.

Entertainment will include local school bands, as well as the Saint Boniface Rhythm Band, a tradition that began in the 1940s and is made up of kindergarteners armed with triangles and rhythm sticks.

“I think people show up because they connect to the tradition,” Karen says. “They like to remember another time, a different way of life when things were slower and maybe our focus was a little more clear. I think it’s a way to almost move back in time a little bit, to go back to our roots.”

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Saint Boniface Lawn Social: October 17 and 18, from 5 to 10 PM at Hilary Field, at the corner of North 19 and B Streets in Fort Smith. Spaghetti dinners are $6 for adults and $3.50 for children. The event will take place rain or shine.

For more information, visit or call the school office at 479.783.6601.

Do South Magazine

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