When it comes to holiday traditions, every family does something a little different. For Santa Clara’s Marsalli family, Thanksgiving means serving up lunch to more than 700 people.
“We didn’t want it to look like a food kitchen, we wanted it to feel like home,” said Denise Bachur as she looked out over the St. Clare Parish Hall.
It feels like home because of the Marsalli family.
Bachur is just one of the more than a dozen family members who came together on Wednesday, Nov. 27 to put the finishing touches on the hall. They added paper placemats at each seat and festive gourds as centerpieces for every table.
It’s part of a tradition that was started 13 years ago by Bachur’s father and family patriarch Larry Marsalli.
Larry Marsalli died in July of 2018, but there are four generations of the family left to carry on the tradition. His wife, Elise, their two daughters, Denise Bachur and Lauri Taylor, their grandchildren and great grandchildren.
“It’s sad but we promised him we would keep it going. So, it’s happy [too],” said Taylor. “It’s hard, but it’s important to keep it going.”
Larry Marsalli’s photo is proudly displayed on the wall of the parish hall alongside the photos of his son, Jerry, who died in 2017 and daughter-in-law, Nancy, who died in 2016.
“They’re here watching over us, keeping everything the way it’s supposed to be. We keep them here in spirit,” said Taylor.
And sitting right under their smiling faces on Thanksgiving Day was Elise Marsalli, Larry’s wife. As she has every year since this tradition started, Elise sat at the piano and played Christmas carols for the guests to enjoy. At 90-years-young, Elise can still remember what she did when the tradition started.
“I went right along with [Larry], of course. We worked as a team, right. And then we brought the kids along,” said Elise.
In the kitchen, Denise Bachur worked to make sure there was enough stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy to go around. She stuck to her side of the kitchen and her nephew Brian Marsalli stuck to his. It’s a family tradition that continued even after her brother Jerry died.
“We’d split the kitchen and [Jerry would] say, ‘I’m staying on my side tending meat, you stay on your side.’ We had so much fun,” said Bachur.
Brian took over cooking the turkey a few years ago, when his father Jerry passed. His sous chef so to speak, is Jerry’s best friend from birth, Steve Mello.
“This is a wonderful, wonderful thing that the Marsallis set up 13 years ago. I’m very proud to be part of it as well as to say that I am part of the Marsalli family. They have treated me like a brother,” said Mello. “The City of Santa Clara is so lucky to have these types of people.”
Every year, people joining the Marsallis for lunch don’t just get a warm meal, but also something to take with them. It’s a tradition that has grown since Marsalli’s granddaughters Lisa Colliss and Jannelle Marsalli-Smith took over.
“This year we’re doing reusable bags. Dr. Frame, who’s the dentist in town donated 700 chap sticks,” said Colliss. “Everyone gets a chap stick, a Nutri Grain bar and then either a hand sanitizer or moisture wipes…We have hats, gloves, blankets. They’ll pick one of these and then everyone also gets a reusable water bottle.”
The Marsalli family served about 550 meals inside the hall and then packaged up hundreds more for delivery. They sent meals to the Bill Wilson Center and the Carmelite Monastery. Meals were also be delivered to local homeless and homebound senior citizens.
But they didn’t do it alone. Approximately 70 volunteers come every year to help make it a memorable Thanksgiving Day feast.
“I’ve got so many families [that volunteer and say] this is their Thanksgiving tradition too,” said Taylor with a smile.