ASU Cronkite students spend Thanksgiving with Dean Callahan — one last time

Monday, December 2, 2019

On a cool and cloudy Thanksgiving day, 25 people gathered for “Thanksgiving with the Callahans,” one of the great unofficial traditions of Arizona State University and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. 

For over more than a decade, about 150 students have been invited for Thanksgiving turkey and all the trimmings at the home of founding Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan and his wife, Jean. 

This year took on the added significance that it would be the last in the Valley: Christopher Callahan in July becomes the next president of the University of the Pacific in California.

“Jean and I just hated the idea that our out-of-state freshmen who couldn’t get home for the holiday would spend Thanksgiving in a mostly empty Taylor Place,” Callahan said of the residence hall. “So we thought they would appreciate spending Thanksgiving with our family.”

Jean Callahan prepares a 27-pound turkey in the oven, traditional style. Dean Callahan goes to work on a couple of smaller ones, one smoked with sugar maple wood chips for most of the day, and the other deep-fried in peanut oil. There’s plenty of sides, including Jean’s famous sweet potatoes with marshmallows.

Also on the menu: lively conversation, football games on TV in the family room, bocce and cornhole games on the lawn and hanging out with a star of the show, the Callahans' 14-year-old golden retriever mix, Chase.

“We love everything about it,” Callahan said. “The students get to enjoy each other’s company, watch some football, play lawn games outside, and then of course devour Thanksgiving dinner!”

Cronkite student Ashley Engle thanked the Callahans for the Thanksgiving experience on behalf of all the students there.  

“It would have cost me $700 to go home for two days,” she said. 

Taylor Moon remembers well Thanksgiving with the Callahans back in 2010. Besides the food, she still recalls the conversation around the table with others, including Dean Callahan, who wanted to know more about the students, where they were from, their goals and what they usually did on Thanksgiving.

“I think the best part was simply having somewhere to go,’’ she said. “I was from out of state and couldn't afford to travel back home. As a freshman, this was my first Thanksgiving away from home. The fact that this was even offered was amazing. I initially in my mind had it figured out that I would be eating a turkey sandwich alone in my dorm, but thanks to this kindness, I had somewhere to go.”

Jazzy Quick also attended Thanksgiving at the Callahans back in 2010.  

“It was quite wonderful,” she said. “It was my first year that I was not going to be able to go home for Thanksgiving. It was really lovely to feel a part of a family and share some laughs … I hope someone else hosts this once Dean Callahan leaves. It was a really wonderful tradition that was super unique to Cronkite.” 

Like in years past, the students this year left after dinner and dessert with smiles and plenty of leftovers, loading onto a bus for the trip back to the Cronkite School. Though this was the last “Thanksgiving with the Callahans” at ASU, you can bet a slice of smoked turkey that students will be gathering next Thanksgiving in the President’s Residence at the University of the Pacific. 

“Most definitely, Jean and I are taking this tradition with us,” Callahan said.