CHARLESTON, W.Va.--Within an hour, guests enjoy topnotch entertainment, a gourmet lunch and a mid-day getaway.Welcome to Kanawha Forum, which is now under way at Kanawha United Presbyterian Church, 1009 Virginia St. E. The five-week session kicked off this past Wednesday and continues on consecutive Wednesdays through Oct. 20.Free concerts are held from 12:05 to 12:30 p.m. Lunch follows at a cost of $10.Ron Neal, director of music for the church, said he initiated the idea for the Kanawha Forum in 1996 as a way of reaching out to the community.
"The first couple of years we averaged 60 to 90 people and now average 100 to 130 at concerts," Neal said. "At the luncheons we can seat 88 with reservations. Sometimes we go over. We try to limit it with all volunteer kitchen help."Those who find the event especially appealing include older adults who don't like to drive at night and downtown workers who enjoy an elegant lunch hour getaway.Church members Roberta Fowlkes and Susannah Johnson co-chair the event."We wanted to offer something to our immediate community," Fowlkes said. "People can have a break with music and lunch, and it gets people into the church. We have a lot of businesspeople and senior citizens who come. Older people who don't get out at night can have an outing. There are downtown churches that have found their niche in the community. This is our niche."Concerts feature well-known area musicians as well as a young artist. Lunch is an exquisite gourmet treat prepared by church members who constantly collect recipes from which to choose.
"It's very organized," Fowlkes said. "People come on Tuesday evenings to chop vegetables for soups and salads. On Wednesday morning, a group comes to cook, serve and clean up."As guests enjoy the concert, a bustling crew works in the church kitchen where delicious aromas fill the air.Wednesday's concert featured pianist Deborah Gross. The lunch menu included creamy zucchini soup, shrimp vermicelli salad, croissant, and coffee almond tortoni.There are guests who make the Kanawha Forum a regular event year after year."I put it on my calendar and schedule it like an appointment," said Alan Kuhlman, 60, of Pinch. "It's a great break in the work week."
Kuhlman, who is in the commercial printing business, said it's also quite a bargain with a free concert and a delicious lunch for only $10.
Louise Williamson, 82, and her husband, Kenneth Williamson, 90, are Charleston residents who attend regularly because they enjoy the entertainment, food and fellowship. Over the years, they have brought along friends and relatives from California, Switzerland, Germany and Austria."We attend them all and send our money early, along with a donation, because we enjoy these events so much," Louise Williamson said."My parents take me," said Ann Weimer, pastoral assistant at nearby Basilica of Co-Cathedral of Sacred Heart Catholic Church. "It's an activity we enjoy together. Because they are older, they don't get out as much during the day. I get the opportunity to enjoy that time with them."Ann Potterfield, 90, and Dr. Tom Potterfield, 89, of Charleston, instilled a love for music in their eight children, including Weimer who is the oldest. She recalls growing up in a home filled with music ranging from classical to show tunes.As a kid, Weimer recalls the entire family piling into the VW bus and singing together until they reached their destination."At Christmas our father and mother took us on a walking tour of the neighborhood, and we sang to the neighbors," she added.
Guests are welcome to just show up for concerts at the Kanawha Forum. Lunch reservations are requested two days in advance. Go to the website www.kanawhachurch.org
or call 304-342-6558.The schedule follows:Today
- Emily Hopkins, soprano (young artist) and Ron Neal, piano. Menu: tomato florentine soup, two bean and cheese salad, lemon poppy seed bread and chocolate chess pie.
Oct. 6 - Victoria Berneking-Cavendish, piano, and Margie Cooper, violin. Menu: mushroom and chive bisque, cranberry gorgonzola green salad, sweet potato biscuits and almond pound cake.Oct. 13 - West Virginia Symphony Brass Quintet. Menu: fresh herb, potato and leek soup; fresh green salad with oranges and honey dressing; mixed wheat rolls; grasshopper torte.Oct. 20 - Ron Neal, organ. Menu: beefy vegetable soup, spinach and citrus salad, date muffins and pumpkin pound cake with cream cheese frosting.Contact writer Charlotte Ferrell Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1246.