He chose not to don an apron to match his mentor, but 8-year-old Isaac Rumler volunteered with a passion during Mr. Thanksgiving’s 47th community holiday meal at SouthPark Mall in Moline.

“Well, he’s more serious than I am,” said Bob Vogelbaugh, also known as “Mr. Thanksgiving,” who picked Isaac to take over the annual party in three years, after the 50th celebration. “A lot of people are getting behind him already.”

Accompanied by his family, friends and droves of other volunteers, the leader-in-training plated desserts, served refreshments to thirsty guests and fetched whatever else they requested. He also fielded questions from at least one TV news reporter. 

“You better get used to the press,” Vogelbaugh told his successor, who stood nervously in front of the camera. “They’re going to be hounding you.”

The attention did not distract or deter Isaac, a student at Seton Catholic School in Moline, from completing his mission. Thursday marked his fourth consecutive year at the gathering.

“It’s about helping people who don’t have family and food,” he said.

Organizers, however, do not call it a charity event.

Looking out over the massive crowd of people, Amber Rumler, Isaac's mother, realized why.

"There are people from all walks of life here to eat," she said. "I hope it shows him (Isaac) the importance of volunteering." 

Two Hy-Vee stores in the Quad-Cities catered the spread of Thanksgiving staples, including 2,000 pounds of turkey.

"This has been the busiest of all the years," Vogelbaugh said when he learned they ran out of mashed potatoes with about an hour to go.

But the news did not worry him or Vicki Birdsell-Baker, a 46-year volunteer. 

"You can make a plan to a certain point and then there is that spontaneity," she said, "and it's that spontaneity that makes this dinner pop." 

Isaac said he expects it will be tough to collect enough donations to pay for everything in the future.

Throughout the night, several grateful guests handed checks and cash to Voeglbaugh.

"This ain’t much, but it will help out a little bit," John Argo of Rock Island said as he passed $25 to Mr. Thanksgiving.

Back at his table, Argo sat with his wife, Delores.

"We don't have the family gathering that we used to have because we're all getting old," he said. "And my wife can't cook like she used to, so we just decided to come out here." 

When his grandparents, Donna and Bob Osborne, arrived at the mall, Isaac took a break from his duties to greet them with hugs and escort them to their seats. He offered to roll his grandfather's oxygen tank to the table, too. 

"I've got lung cancer, so I'm fighting that," Bob said. "He (Isaac) takes care of me though."

Although they may be biased, the couple believes their grandson has what it takes to carry on the tradition.

"He can really handle it, with his mother and father's help of course," Bob said. "He's the kind of child that can look at something, see what needs to be done and just go and do it." 

Isaac’s enthusiasm inspired his buddies, including 10-year-old Landon Skiles, to lend a hand.

“It’s pretty cool that my friend is going to be Mr. Thanksgiving,” he said.

Vogelbaugh, who doubles as a crossing guard at Seton, said Isaac has the next few years to decide whether he wants to remain involved.

"It's not written in stone, but I think someone above has been directing this right along," he said. 

Vogelbaugh offered this advice for Isaac:

"Don't ever get discouraged," he said. "You just have to do the best you can." 

For now, Isaac plans to continue learning how to carry the torch.

"It's really exciting," he said. "I feel good about it."


Jack Cullen uncovers different slices of life for the Quad-City Times. He previously covered the city of Bettendorf. When he's not reporting, Jack enjoys coaching tennis and exploring the outdoors.