KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Inside Tom Grimwood's (search) home is a world map stuck with hundreds of tiny push pins.
From Egypt to the Far East, the pins represent international students who over the last half-century have carved turkey, watched American football and tasted pumpkin pie for the first time in a little place called Burns, Kan. (search).
Grimwood's late mother, Betty, began the Thanksgiving tradition by inviting foreign students from the University of Kansas to travel the 130 miles from Lawrence to break bread with her.
Since then, the Thanksgiving Homestay Program (search) has spread from Burns, not far from Wichita, to towns throughout Kansas.
"I can't remember a single Thanksgiving without a foreign student in my home," Grimwood, 53, said. "It only takes a couple of days and they become your friends. You hate to see them go."
Sometimes, the friendships last. A student from Venezuela met the Grimwoods for Thanksgiving in the late 1950s. This year, he sent his granddaughter to spend part of her holiday with the Kansas family. Another South American student from the inaugural class, now 73, traveled from her Houston home to visit Burns last week.
Tom Grimwood and his wife, Nedy, now own the same country home where Betty Grimwood welcomed students for nearly half a century.
Betty Grimwood corresponded by mail with several of the students she met over the years, her son said. She even traveled overseas to reunite with some of them.
In 1959, Vice President Richard Nixon (search) said Burns had "the biggest foreign diplomatic service in the world," and presented Betty Grimwood and her husband, Ed, with the Institute of International Education's Distinguished Service Award. Betty Grimwood had actually borrowed the idea from another town.
This year, 24 families in about a dozen communities across Kansas and in the Kansas City area will host students from Japan, India, China and countries in the Middle East. Only a handful of the university's 1,600 international students participate each year.
Some spend only Thanksgiving Day with families, but some stay for a few days.
Ayako Takekuma will join Rachel and Kevin Dobbs and dozens of their relatives in Prairie Village, Kan.
The linguistics student from Japan plans to prepare an authentic potato stew from her country to go with the family's traditional spread of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberries.
Rachel Dobbs has planned days full of shopping, spa visits, horseback riding and dancing for her international guest.
"I want to make sure she sees what I like about Kansas and the place we are proud of and love," Dobbs said.