Free Serbian feast held for perhaps the last time
Sharkey Begovich has amassed quite an extended “family” in the past 30 years.
So big, in fact, that they stand in a line three abreast and the length of the casino that bears his name on Sunday waiting for a free plate of food for what will be Sharkey’s last Serbian Christmas Dinner.
The 74-year-old founder of the casino held court at a table inside of the restaurant on Sunday as patrons file past and shake his hand.
“Merry Christmas, Sharkey,” they say and Sharkey offers back a firm handshake and a “Thank you for coming.”
He made no secret of his intention to sell the casino that has been a Carson Valley fixture for 30 years.
“You better not sell,” a woman said to Sharkey as she passed him.
“Hell I’m selling,” Sharkey replied.
The tradition for the Begovich family started at the turn of the century when Sharkey’s mother Sophie owned a boarding house in Plymouth, Calif. She opened her home to celebration on Jan. 7, Butch Begovich, Sharkey’s son said.
“Serbian-Orthodox is by the Old World calendar, and Christmas falls on the seventh,” he said. The tradition was carried on by Sharkey and he charges nothing for the meal, just as if you came to his home for dinner.”
Sharkey has been holding the annual celebration in Gardnerville since 1971, breaking only when a fire closed the casino in the winter of 1995.
The crowd, estimated to be at least 4,500 patrons, gobbled up 15 goats, 14 pigs, 50 turkeys and gallons and gallons of potato salad, macaroni salad, coleslaw, carrot slaw, mashed potatoes, and gravy.
Butch said there were 400 pounds of strudel.
Jane Rosenbrock, a resident of Gardnerville for the past 62 years, has attended every Sharkey’s Christmas since its incarnation.
“It depends upon the people who buy the casino, whether there will be any more Serbian Christmases,” she said.
Ninety-two–year-old Rose Bergstrom has also attended every dinner, except for last year’s due to health problems. “This year is possibly my favorite year because Sharkey might be leaving and it just won’t be the same,” she said
Sharkey has his sights set on peaceful Christmases to come.
“I imagine I will find something to do. I know of dozens of places I would like to go and visit who celebrate a Serbian Christmas,” Sharkey said. “It’s too bad it’s the last one, but there comes a time to ride on over the mountain.”