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The time is right to say goodbye to Pancho Pancake

For more than a half-century, one local tradition seemed to serve as the centerpiece to the Lewistown Kiwanis Club’s annual pancake breakfast — revealing the identity of that year’s “Pancho Pancake.”

For those who aren’t familiar with the tradition, each year a prominent person was chosen by the local Kiwanis Club to fill the role of Pancho Pancake. In fact, the first-ever Pancho was the late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. This person, who considered it to be an honor to have been selected, would be secretly photographed wearing the traditional Pancho garb of a sombrero, long hair and beard, fake glasses, fake nose and an oversized poncho.

In the weeks leading up to the pancake breakfast, clues about who the person was would be revealed here in The Sentinel, allowing locals to try and decipher Pancho’s secret identity. Finally, on the day of the breakfast and annual Christmas parade, Pancho’s identity would be revealed to all in attendance.

It was about the community having fun and enjoying fellowship.

But since the 1960s when Pancho was first introduced, society has undeniably changed and awareness has been heightened — perhaps most notably in regard to how minorities are depicted, especially by people who are not members of that group.

And while we know the Kiwanis Club had no ill intentions whatsoever, the leaders of that organization have also recognized that dressing someone up — usually a Caucasian individual — in an outfit stereotypical of Mexicans no longer promotes the message Kiwanis wishes to.

It’s why we agree with the decision to discontinue the character of Pancho Pancake.

We realize some out there will decry this as kowtowing to political correctness. Others will wonder what harm there is in something designed to be fun. But we believe the majority of folks — many of whom enjoyed trying to guess Pancho’s identity each year — can at least see why a change was prudent or even necessary.

The Kiwanis Club is a force for good in our community. We don’t want to see something well-intended like Pancho Pancake cause people to feel otherwise.

And just because Pancho Pancake’s time may have come to an end, that doesn’t mean the fun must end. The pancake breakfast and Christmas parade will still go on, and who’s to say the local Kiwanians can’t start a new tradition that will still be going strong 50 years from now?

But regardless of what the Lewistown Kiwanis Club decides, we know this: the club is full of people who love their community, want to make the lives of others better and are willing to give of their time to do so.

If that isn’t worthy of our support, then we don’t know what is.

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