Named a Finalist Because: Encapsulating the best of small-town America, the Doaks turn everyone into family—especially on Apple Butter Weekend.
From the Editors: Waterford, Ohio, is a town of modest wood frame houses in a landscape of green rolling hills and farmland, two hours from Columbus. If you drove through, you probably wouldn’t notice it. “Blink,” says Nancy Crowley, who lives nearby, “and you miss it.”
But to folks like Crowley who know Waterford, there is one home that is more than worth a visit because it vividly captures the spirit of small-town Ohio and ensures that future generations get to experience the best of the community’s values. It belongs to Roger and Shirley Doak, a former state troopers and a retired employee from a nearby chemical company, respectively. The Doaks are the kind of people who throw their doors open to everyone. Their home is where locals gather to watch a parade or celebrate at a holiday party. Most important of all, it’s where the community gathers to make—and eat—apple butter.
Apple butter has been a Doak family tradition since at least 1960, and the cooking process hasn’t changed much. People come from far and wide—friends, friends of friends, strangers who happen to just be driving through—to take a turn stirring the copper kettles full of sticky-sweet butter. “I watch this family in awe at how every person who stops by is greeted by name, introduced to everyone, and eventually given the job of stirring for a few minutes,” says our nominator, Lucinda Fleming, who was a college roommate of Doaks’ daughter, Jennifer, and has been a regular at Apple Butter Weekend ever since. “I leave there so happy and content because I feel like I belong there.”
Over the years, the weekends have become less frequent—they happen only every other year now. Everyone is busy, and the Doaks have gotten older. The town around them has changed a bit too. “I see a lot of real estate transactions there,” says Crowley. “It’s growing fast.” Farms and old local industries have shut down, and people are moving away. But for one weekend every other year, the Doaks give their neighbors a sweet reminder of small-town Ohio life.
Read Lucinda Fleming’s nomination below to learn more about why Roger and Shirley Doak’s house might just be the Nicest Place in America.
The Doaks are my best friend’s parents. Every other year, their family hosts an event to make apple butter on a fall Saturday. The fire starts at dawn and the stirring begins soon after. It is more than just family who attend: neighbors, friends, and occasional passersby all take a turn stirring the bubbling mixture in the big kettles. There is food for everyone, breaks are taken in the family room to watch a little football, and conversations swirl like the falling leaves. By sunset, there are hundreds of pints of cinnamon apple butter nestled under blankets with the rhythmic pop-pop-pop of the jars as they seal. There are no strangers on this magical Saturday, as everyone who steps onto the Doak’s property becomes family.
My first experience at apple butter weekend was in the 90s. I peppered them with questions about the process because I was fascinated that the entire event happened in their driveway. I have held the job of “jars, rings, and lids” ever since that first weekend. I watch this family in awe at how every person who stops by is greeted by name, introduced to everyone, and eventually given a job of stirring for a few minutes. Once they complete their turn, they are offered food from the massive spread in the dining room. I leave there so happy and content not only because I get some time with my precious best friend, but also because I feel like I belong there.