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Robert Burns Society celebrates 40th birthday

Four decades are a mere blink of an eye when compared with the enduring and colorful history of Scotland. But in the Midlands, those 40 years have knit tightly a like-minded group bent on keeping the culture, customs and traditions of Scotland relevant and vibrant.

2018 marks the 40th anniversary the Robert Burns Society of the Midlands (RBSM) has been part of the Midlands’ cultural scene, and the 40th annual Robert Burns Birthday Anniversary Supper.

William McCullough, long-time RBSM member and graceful Scottish Country dancer, found in his personal archives the flyer announcing RBSM’s the first meeting.

McCullough’s document reminded the organization was founded on a November Sunday afternoon in 1977at Keenan High School. The society formed under the international umbrella of the World Robert Burns Society. By the time the SC Secretary of State issued a charter the following May, the club already had held its first Robert Burns Supper, an occasion celebrated world-wide on the anniversary of the birth of the famous Scottish poet.

The supper has remained the pinnacle event for a growing multi-generational membership that now draws participation from counties throughout the Midlands. The annual event has become as much a Scottish pageant as a partaking of a meal. Bagpipes, a parade of tartans, Scottish dancers, and toasts and tributes punctuate the colorful evening.

Throughout the year other seasonal celebrations are held: a Beltane each spring, a Ceilidth in summer, and a Samhain in the fall, usually near Halloween. Burns Society members participate in Kirkin’ of the Tartans worship services at Presbyterian churches wherever held within the Midlands.

“In the early years, meetings usually involved a meal, although each gathering was by no means a Burns Supper. The group met various places around town,” recounted Lois Lockhart, who has been a member since soon after the group formed.

“There were covered dish dinners at the Woman’s Club in Maxcy Gregg Park, meetings for some years at Fort Jackson, both at the Officers’ Club and the NCO Club, and later at restaurants around town. I recall one held at what then was Adam’s Mark Hotel (now Marriott.) Our first meeting at Seawell’s was not at the Fairgrounds – I don’t remember if it was there yet – this was the one out on North Main Street. I believe that was in 1988. We have been holding the Burns Dinner at Seawell’s at the Fairgrounds now for at least a decade,” Lockhart recalled.

Liz Simmons, who with her late husband was a founding member, remembered that Pelham wore a Viking helmet with his kilt to the Burns suppers. “He was kiddingly compared to Hagar the Horrible, a character in a comic strip popular then.”

Featured photo – Back row: Doug McDonald, Joe Jenkinson, Dick Strachan, Lock McLendon (who was current president in 1992,) Becky Strachan, Ron Beaton, and Bob Rowland. Front row: Tim McKinnery, Beverly Di Thomas, and Pelham Simmons.

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