Putting manners on the menu at “the people’s mansion.”
When Patty Morrow picked up her grand-daughter, Brooklynn, from the Governor’s Mansion in 2012, she was delighted to hear her raving about that morning’s activities. From learning how to set a table to learning how to write a proper thank you note, Brooklynn, who was 8 years old at the time, had the most delightful time soaking up knowledge about good manners and proper etiquette during the Manners at the Mansion event.
“She could not quit talking about it,” says Patty, who began working as a docent at the Mansion soon after seeing the impact the event made on her granddaughter. “She was bubbly, giggly, and excited. I knew it was a special event and special for kids.”
Since the 1990s, during Governor Mel Carnahan administration, Friends of the Missouri Governor’s Mansion have hosted Manners at the Mansion for children ages 8 through 12 to teach the essentials of good manners.
“We teach the importance of respecting the rules of. the home they are visiting,” Patty says.” We also teach them how to take cues from family members on things such as helping to set or clear the table, having second servings, or being excused.”
Children begin learning as soon as they arrive at the event. When introductions are taking place in a social or formal setting, it is customary to consider age and status to ensure respect and propriety.
“When making introductions, we recall the phrases of ‘age before beauty’ and ‘ladies before gentlemen,’ as well as recognizing a VIP,” Patty says.
This year, children were introduced to First Lady Theresa Parson as she welcomed them at the mansion’s front steps. Inside, the children are divided into four age groups and alternate between four different workshops: verbal communications, written communications, table setting, and etiquette.
“About 30 children participate during each event,” says Tami Holliday, executive director of Friends of the Missouri Governor’s Mansion.
When setting up for formal dining, the children must learn to have everything in its specific place — from setting the bread plates that go at the upper left corner to the drinking glasses that go in the upper right corner to the dinner and salad plates that are stacked in the center of each place setting. When setting the eating utensils, the dinner fork must go to the left of the plate, closest to the plate; and the salad fork must go to the left of the dinner fork. If a steak knife is needed, it goes directly to the right of the plate followed by the dinner knife(blades face towards the plate), tea spoon, dinner spoon, and soup spoon. This placement allows people to work their way in as they eat through each course of the meal.If dessert is served, the fork or spoon will be placed at the top of the plate and then moved down to the right after the entrée is picked up from the table.
When learning table etiquette, children are instructed to hold out a chair for guests, to properly eat soup by sliding the spoon across the bowl’s rim to prevent any spills, to leave a spoon in iced tea after stirring, and to place napkins to the left of the dinner plate when getting up from the table. These new skills are then shown off to one adult guest of their choosing during an elegant lunch at the Mansion, which is served by a team of waiters dressed in tuxedos. Oftentimes, the children will correct their adult guests when they see them not practicing proper etiquette.
“A lot of times, the kids are telling the parents what to do, and it’s really funny,” Tami says.
But before guests arrive, children are also taught about proper communication. Patty begins the verbal communication workshop by telling the children, “We’re going to talk about talking.”
Patty covers personal introductions, instructing children to give a firm but gentle handshake, to keep eye
contact with the other person, and to smile. To maintain those good communication skills, children also learn to refrain from social media and phone use, to honor their commitments, to include new people by. making them feel welcome, and the golden rule, to treat others the way they want to be treated.
“With all the classes, we want the kids to understand that everyone has manners,” says Patty, who also happens to be a retired teacher from Moreau Heights Elementary. “Good or bad, you get to choose which to use. When in doubt, always think about how you want to be treated. Kindness is always appropriate.”
While Patty acknowledges that texting a kind note of appreciation is certainly fine at times, the children learn how to write a formal thank you letter by placing their names at the upper left corner of their pages; addressing recipients appropriately with a Mr., Mrs., or Miss; giving salutations and specifics on what they are thankful for; and conveying sincere gratitude before signing off with “sincerely” or“best” and their signatures. When the event comes to a close, the letters are placed in an envelope and hand delivered to the mansion staff to be passed on to the First Lady, thanking her for allowing them to be in the Governor’s Mansion for the morning.
“Learning and practicing proper manners builds self-confidence, which makes new experiences less intimidating and more enjoyable,” Patty says.
The Manners at the Mansion event is held annually and serves as a fundraiser for the Friends of the Missouri Governor’s Mansion, which aims to preserve the Mansion’s history through stewardship of the building’s interior as well as its historical collections and educational programs.
“This event is an amazing experience,” Patty says. “Our beautiful mansion is the perfect setting for learning appropriate behavior. Children from every corner of Missouri attend the sessions, as well as out-of-state participants. It’s about planting those seeds of appropriate behavior and good manners and having fun while we do it.