Callaway’s Crusade

Local restaurateur’s philanthropy a labor of faith, love

Tom Dawson points out his ancestors in photos adorning Tonanzios’ walls. Dawson comes from a long line of missionaries and restaurateurs in Callaway County.

Tom Dawson points out his ancestors in photos adorning Tonanzios’ walls. Dawson comes from a long line of missionaries and restaurateurs in Callaway County.

Guthrie Township may only have just over 600 denizens, but that pales in comparison to the number of people who have heard of Tonanzios over the years. Its owner, Tom Dawson, has established locations all throughout the state of Missouri and as far southeast as Florida. Dawson has fed governors and musicians, serving Connie Francis her first slice of pizza.

None of that is as important to its owner, however, as his charity work and his faith. Dawson’s work is nonprofit, with Tonanzios taking second billing on their roadside sign to the Sportsman’s Research and Cultural Arts Foundation, a group Dawson founded dedicated to conservation education. Many of the people Dawson helps are terminally ill or handicapped. Himself a recipient of a kidney transplant, Dawson knows the importance of goodwill and faith.

That faith has led him to create and host at Tonanzios what he calls a “Spiritual Christian Crusade,” a multicultural, nondenominational series of sermons, dramatizations and music celebrating the events leading up to Easter, running April 5-7.

Dawson wanted the event to span cultures and ethnicities to unite as many people as he could, and he originally conceived of his crusade taking place in St. Louis. When circumstances prevented that from happening this year, Dawson realized that with mid-Missouri’s multicultural element — bolstered by William Woods University, Westminster College and the University of Missouri — he could bring his event to Guthrie.

“My idea was to try and reduce the denominational barriers and the racial or ethnic barriers and to get all these people onboard to get Jesus in their heart,” said Dawson. “That’s why I wanted to call it a crusade, to get all the people together as much as possible.”

Dawson will sell snacks every day during his crusade from 5:30-7:30 p.m., but everything else will be free and open to the public. Thursday will focus on the Passover and the Lord’s Supper, while Friday’s events will focus on Jesus’ crucifixion and Saturday will be centered around the day following the crucifixion leading up to the Easter resurrection. Dawson knows Thursday’s events will be the more unique parts of his crusade, as many people in Callaway County haven’t seen a Passover Seder performed before.

“We’re trying to follow the Bible. We’re going to show how that Last Supper was connected to the Passover,” he said. “Many people say that Passover is what we’re doing as the Lord’s Supper. We’re actually going to do a Jewish Passover and show the connections between the Lord’s Supper, and then we will also have communion.”

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