Black Diamond Dinner Story

Myron Ronk

The NPUMC Black Diamond Dinner has served roast beef, mashed potatoes, and pies to the New Paltz community on Election Day for over 90 years. Originally held to purchase “black diamonds” – coal – to heat the church, this annual dinner continues to be an important fundraiser for NPUMC.

The New Paltz United Methodist Church has roots that go back to 1786, when the first Methodist circuit riders came to town. These men came, preached, led singing, then continued on to other communities. By 1824 there were enough people in this area to form a regular circuit which included what is now Modena, New Paltz, Ardonia, Clintondale and Highland.   1840 saw the first Methodist Episcopal Church in town, built on the corner of Main and Church Streets. Though there were years that were so lean some people thought the church might close its doors, by 1870 they were remodeling and they moved so as to face Church Street, selling the portion of the land facing onto Main Street. In 1894 a violent winter wind did great damage to the premises.

In 1923 the Rev. J. Robert Halmshaw was called to New Paltz. A charismatic man, the congregation grew under his leadership, till they outgrew their original building. In 1924 a building committee was organized, and a plot of land on the corner of Main and Grove was purchased. Construction was begun in 1928.

The cornerstone for the new Methodist Episcopal Church was laid on January 10 1929. On June 20 of that year the dedication service was conducted, and in November of that year the church received the donation of the Wicks Memorial Organ for its congregation.

That November also saw the start of a great tradition: the Black Diamond Anniversary dinner. For a church in a new building, fund raisers were needed to cover expenses. How about a dinner for the community? The proceeds could be used to purchase coal for heating the sanctuary. Thus, the name BLACK DIAMOND came about. The church was obviously as interested in its civic duties then as it is now, and so the decision was made to hold this dinner on Election Day.

The menu has changed little over the course of 90+ years. Then, as now, the main course is roast beef with all the trimmings, with homemade pies for dessert.   We have since added vegetarian and vegan entree options to be more inclusive of all our community members’ dietary preferences and needs. Fresh ingredients, prepared lovingly for our appreciative guests, the New Paltz United Methodist Church continues to feed all who come.

Many church members and staff have worked on this dinner with enthusiasm through the years, but none more so than Myron Ronk, a beloved associate pastor who was a local resident and who sold more tickets for the dinner than anyone. His name was added to the title of this dinner in recognition of his long years of service.

A number of years ago the church switched from the traditional idea of two seatings to continuous service, allowing people to come anytime in the three hours of serving, at their own convenience. A few years later, we also moved from “family style” service, where the plates heaped with food were placed on each table, getting cold as people ate, to buffet service so that people could count on seconds that were still hot.

READ MORE! See the November 2022 article from our Church Historian Anna Bates