The St. Andrew’s dinner started 169 years ago by a group of immigrant Scots who wanted to honor their Patron Saint and keep memories alive of their Homeland. This dinner has changed over the years and now St. Andrew is seldom mentioned. For many years the great question centered around the speaker for the evening. We no longer have speakers. When I first came to work for the Saint Andrew Society, the big questions were which entertainer would be brought over from Scotland and who would be the master of ceremonies. We seldom bring entertainers from Scotland and no longer use an outside, prominent person as the master of ceremonies.
There are always reasons why things evolve, good speakers are hard to find and the cost of entertainment has continued to rise. The world changes and we change. (The average attention span for Americans is now down to 8 seconds, according to a speaker I heard last week.) You will, however, notice that we still use much of the same outline for our event. Our past history is important!
I’ve been reading about the St. Andrew’s day dinner which was held in 1932. As most of you know St. Andrew’s day is November 30 but if that date fell on a Sunday the Anniversary Dinner was moved to December. Thus, in 1932 it was held on December 3rd. The Society president that year was Gilbert Alexander. The attendance was over 800. The Great Depression was at its height. David R Forgan had just died. Dr. John Timothy Stone was asked to give a tribute. He read a poem by S. H. M. Byers. (Dr. Stone was pastor of the Fourth Presbyterian church for 20 years and later president of the McCormack Theological Seminary. He was once the interim pastor at Lake Forest. Dr. Stone died in 1954.) I have a copy of the poem if anyone is interested. A standing moment of silence was given in honor of David Forgan who had been a popular figure among the Scots of Chicago.
The toastmaster was Rabbi Garson Levi, born in Glasgow, Scotland. He had been attending the Annual Dinner for four years and was a member of the Saint Andrew Society. The pipe band was led by Robert H. Sim and the dancers were provided by Prof. John F. Dewar. There was a haggis, but not for everyone, just the head table. It was not the center of attention, and apparently the Robert Burns toast was not given. The invocation was offered by the Rev. Allison McCracken. The National Anthem was sung and a telegram read from President Herbert Hoover expressing his regrets at not being able to attend. (He had just lost to Franklin D. Roosevelt.) Dorothy Marwick and Cameron McLean sang several songs. The surprise of the evening was an appearance of comedian Willie Fyfe and his wife. He was preforming at the Palace theater and had often visited the Scottish Home. He was a personal friend of the John Williamson family.
The speaker for the evening was Professor Franklin Bliss Snyder of Northwestern University. (He later became the 18th President of Northwestern following Walter Dill Scott.) A summary of his speech was later printed in the British American newspaper. Here is a summary:
For a native–born New Englander with the German name I hardly feel entitled to the invitation of this gathering, still I think I can put my foot inside, thanks to a grandmother from Skye. I owe that grandmother many things. I owe to her three hand-hammered silver teaspoons and a table that stood along her bed on which stood the lamp and the family Bible. But, I owe her much more than these material things. First of all owe to her an abiding confidence in Scotland and Scottish people. I have said many times to my students that if they could choose their ancestries, and did not choose to sprinkle a few Scotsmen there, they would be stupid beyond words. For I know no nation that has made as large a contribution to human welfare as has Scotland. Hunter in medicine, Burns, Scott and Stephenson in literature, and countless other men of renown have been Scotsmen. They have done the sort of thing that the world needs to have done.
I know no nation since this modern world of ours began which has made so large a contribution as Scotland. Another thing I owe to my grandmother is an interest in and better understanding of the man who most of us would consider greatest of all Scotsmen, Robert Burns. I know no one else who is Burns equal when it comes to the difficult task of thinking the thoughts of the wise and speaking the language of the humble. I think it is the language that Burns developed that has made him known, not merely to you and me, but known and loved wherever the Scottish dialect can be understood. It was my interest in Burns which first made me visit his birthplace. I owe that to my grandmother. The hospitality that was shown to me as I was traveling through southern Scotland will never be forgotten.
While in Scotland I made a friend of a man called James MacPherson. When I was leaving I told him I was sorry to be going and as an afterthought added we have gotten along very well together. Yes, he said, we have gotten along pretty well together and when you get to the states remembered this that so long as your people and my people get along pretty well together we need not worry no matter how black things may look, but if ever your people and my people should have a serious misunderstanding, I do not think there will be much left to live for. Now if you will do the honor of remembering anything that I have said please let it be that remark of McPherson’s. After all we are two branches of the same English speaking people and so long as we get along we need not fear.
Dr. Snyder wrote a book about Robert Burns and I was recently able to purchase on the Internet. It is available to anyone interested and will ultimately find a place in the library at the Scottish Home.
Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
The September meeting of the Scottish American History Club is September 6, 2014. Our speaker is Bruce Allardice who will be talking about baseball in Chicago during the Civil War. Many of these amateur stars served in the 65th Illinois Infantry. Please mark your calendar and watch for more information. Museum opens at 9 a.m. and program begins at 10 o’clock.