"Better get to the meeting or we'll not have any election! Cows will have to wait!" The note to Dale Federer was hand written on the minutes of the board of the Martin Luther King Scholarship Board for May 6, 1976. It was signed by Rev. George Aki, Pastor of the Congregational Church and veteran of the 442nd “Go for Broke” Regimental Combat Team with his Japanese name, followed by "George Aki, Secretary."
Cal Poly psychology professor Emeritus, Federer was born and raised in Wyoming. Federer lives in rural Arroyo Grande and raises cattle.
Federer is a cofounder of a very special part of San Luis Obispo's history: The Martin Luther King Scholarship program.
The scholarship was established in the aftermath of the tragic death of Dr. King in April 1968.
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Federer says the Scholarship board "is like a family. Most people stay on the board until they are too sick or die."
It's involved some unique individuals.
From the beginning, the scholarship program was interracial, multiethnic and ecumenical both in terms of the board’s composition and the recipients.
There was the legendary Mrs. Maxine Lewis, Mrs. A. J. Banks and Stanley Rogers emphatically stating that they felt "Dr. King would have wanted to help the worthy regardless of race, color or creed. The scholarships could be used for any post high school training that would lead to gainful employment, including beauty and trade schools."
In 1972 "Mamma Joe" and "Papa T." Jessie offered to do a barbecue to help fund the scholarships.
The chicken barbecue was $3 a ticket in 1975. Twenty years later, it's only $12. Not bad for the wonderful food and fellowship that come with the dinner!
The barbecue wasn't an easy task. Federer told me in 1996, "After Mr. and Mrs. Jessie could no longer prepare the barbecue, the board of directors assisted the Springfield Baptist Church and St. Luke's Missionary Baptist Church in preparing and serving the meal."
"At first it seemed to be so much work. All of us were exhausted when closing time came. We usually had a big rush at the end and would run out of chicken."
"We made great progress in getting organized and doing a better job when Luther Bines took over the job as head cook at the barbecue and Nellie Ford took over the kitchen."
"Robert Bonds and Sid Bennett used to stay in the SLO Veterans Hall all night, stirring and cooking, getting beans ready for the barbecue the next day. Things are easier now, with Nellie Ford preparing the beans the morning of the event. Luther Bines has died, but Al Gordon stepped in and seemed to inherit Bines' calm efficiency."
In 1984, the Elks Club offered the use of its hall free of charge. The barbecue has been held there ever since. It's grown in popularity and raised enough money to offer more scholarships with a higher dollar value.
Recently, Federer broke his hip. Center. He still asked for 125 tickets to sell even thought he is in a care center. He really loves the kids and wants to help encourage them to attend college.
You and your family can make a difference by participating in a uniquely San Luis Obispo event, the Martin Luther King Scholarship Barbecue at the Elk’s Club, 222 Elks Lane from 12 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 3. You can join friends at the round tables or enjoy a great “take out” venue for the game on “Super Bowl Sunday.”
Dan Krieger’s column is special to The Tribune. He is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and past president of the California Mission Studies Association.