DAKOTA CITY, Nebraska | Virginia Piper won five elections during her tenure as Dixon County Clerk of Court. She served another 20 years as the Dakota County Clerk Magistrate, an appointed position, not an elected one.
After being in public office for four decades, Piper can't shake Election Day. She started it early Tuesday by preparing a salad for the Election Day luncheon at the Dakota City United Methodist Church. After stopping to cast her vote in the general election, Piper took $7 apiece from diners she greeted at the front door of the church.
Election Day would end for her at the Dakota County Courthouse, where she was to record election returns before calling them in to the Associated Press.
"I love Election Day," Piper said.
Apparently, members of her church share an Election Day affinity. Piper and co-ticket taker Charlotte Doenhofer figure the special lunch, a fundraiser for the 160-member church, is a tradition going back a half-century.
Gordon Piper examined the church history book and found a 1972 item that briefly described the traditional Election Day Luncheon. "If it was a tradition in 1972; it had to be around several years before that," Virginia Piper said. "We're thinking it's been around 50 years."
Election Day luncheons and soup suppers dot the Siouxland landscape, giving voters the chance to dine and converse while wrapping up a season marked by intense debate, firebrand stump speeches and a case of political-sensory overload.
Items greeting the senses at noon on Tuesday included the warmth of a Methodist loose meat, the aroma of cowboy beans, or beans "with added kick," as they're called. Twenty-three salads were presented, as were cupcakes for dessert.
The Rev. Gina Gile, who has served churches in Texas, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska, put her spin on an Iowa saying from "Field of Dreams," the 1989 baseball movie. "If the Methodists make it, they will come," Gile said. "You come and eat some loose meats and it makes everything better."
"The turnout is good, the food is awesome and the company is even better," said Donna Foxhoven, who accompanied husband, Leo Foxhoven, to the luncheon. They dined after voting.
"I was number 117 in voting," she said. "Usually, I'm around number 62. I think the turnout is heavier."
Dozens of carryout meals were loaded into a van and shipped to polling places from Dakota City to South Sioux City to Hubbard, Nebraska, a welcome source of nourishment for workers like Randy Lussier, of Hubbard, and Mary Wolf, of South Sioux City.
"It was terribly boring in the primary," said Wolf. "I ate a lot."
Wolf, 81, kept busy on Tuesday at the American Legion Hall in South Sioux City, what with the interest generated by both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at the top of the ticket, not to mention local school board races and more lower on the ballot. Still, it was no match for her first election, which took place 44 years ago.
"We had 19 amendments on the ballot in 1972," Wolf said. "I worked until 3 a.m. in that primary."
Back then, a group of election workers, called the Receiving Board, gave voters their ballots, which were then turned in to a group of people on the stage of the gymnasium, behind the curtain. Wolf was a member of this group, which was known as the Counting Board. She and her coworkers counted votes all day and most of the night.
"Now, everything is taken into the clerk's office and counted by a machine," said Wolf, who often picks a time when the line dwindles to cast her vote. She tries to do so when her ballot would be a special number, like 52, significant to her as she graduated from high school in 1952.
Lussier, who began working on Election Day in 1978, used this election as a break between his soybean harvest and his corn harvest. He was to arrive at the Hubbard Community Center by 7 a.m. and probably wouldn't leave until 9 p.m. or later.
"I enjoy politics," said Lussier, 64. "It's interesting, even this year."
He predicted the United States would mend fences once this special day passed and the shouting subsided. "We've always come together in the past and I see no reason why we shouldn't this time."
Back at the church in Dakota City, luncheon volunteer Doenhofer hoped that would be the case. A free election is something she holds dear; men and women have died to preserve days like this.
"I'll vote after the lunch," she said. "I've never missed a vote yet. My husband and I lived in Japan for four years and we even voted while we were there. You don't ever want to lose that right."
A right that in Dakota City, Nebraska, comes with conversation, cupcakes and cowboy beans.