Good evening, fellow club members and guests. Welcome to our dinner. I tried this address out on my parrot this afternoon and he indicated that it would cost me 10 peanuts and a sprig of millet. A very large sprig of millet. You good people will have to settle for your portion of haggis as payment for listening to me.
As this is my first address to a club dinner as president, I wanted to express what the club means to me, and to all of us. My thoughts ranged back over the history of our club, reaching back into the days before I became a member. We are not the first Burns Club in Milwaukee. That honor goes to James Murray and his fellow Scottish immigrants who formed a club on January 24th, 1851 and kept it active for eight years until it evolved into the St. Andrew’s Society. We still have a link to that club as we meet monthly in the Kucik/Kader home on Murray St., which is named after James Murray. Our present club was born in 1986 due to the efforts of William Kerr, Sandford Todd, and many charter members who are here tonight.
The club’s first function was a wreath-laying at the Milwaukee Burns statue. It coincided with the 200th anniversary of the publishing of Burns’ Kilmarnock edition of his poems. Between that event and today, our club has been active in several endeavors, including the responsibility of laying a wreath at the statue before our July dinner commemorating the death date of Robert Burns. This is a responsibility we share with the St. Andrew’s Society of Milwaukee, which lays the wreath to commemorate Burns’ birth date before their January dinner and ours. Just yesterday, as I walked past the statue, which is near my home, I stopped to admire the wreath in the shape of the St. Andrew flag, and to tack up the ribbon, as one end had blown loose. Both of our clubs share members as well as responsibilities, and I was glad to make this one small gesture in the name of friendship and the memory of Robert Burns.
Accomplishments of our club are many and I wish I had been around to take part in them all, instead of just lurking in their shadow and taking pride in the fact that I am a member of this club. A notable accomplishment is the book the club produced in 1991 with 21 chapters, each written by a different club member and done with much thought and research, showing that literate writing ability is present in no small amount among our club members. Then there is the conference of the North American Association of Federated Burnsians hosted by our club in 1994 at Carroll College--a big responsibility for a little club. For several years now, the club has been building a fund to light the Milwaukee Burns statue. We wait patiently for the city to give the nod for this project to go ahead.
This year has seen our club web page come online, and the start of our club archive. This web page offers fellow Burnsians around the world the entire works of Robert Burns online along with several indexes, a Scots glossary, and a concordance developed by a club member. Its usefulness has already been attested to by people who left comments in the guest book, including a comment from someone in Scotland who pronounced our web page the definitive Burns site. Accomplishments indeed to be proud of, all of these.
I’d like to recognize some club members who have contributed this year to our club’s accomplishments. Our club’s first webmaster, David Arnold, stands out as this year’s hardest working member. He conceived the idea and brought into being our club’s web page in only a few months. It has had rave reviews from Burnsians all over the world. In addition to the works of Burns, the site contains articles by club members, a how-to on Burns dinners, membership info, club activities calendar, club products for sale, and the guest sign-in book. The layout designed by David is easy to use. He continues to monitor the site, responding to site guest inquiries, and coming up with constant improvement ideas. He was not entirely alone in these efforts, having support and suggestions from the website committee, composed of himself as chair, David Brannan, Michelle Asp, and myself. I congratulate my fellow committee members for their expert advice and time unselfishly spent to bring our website into being.
This year, we began an archive committee composed of Wendy Uhl as chair, Larry Koellner, and Jean Carlson. This was the fruition of an idea that had been floating around in club conversations for a couple of years. This new committee has taken on the task of setting our club’s history in order. We have some real expertise at work here with Wendy, a former club secretary, who with foresight has saved quite a bit of material herself. Then we have the professional advice of Larry, who holds a master’s in Library Science, specializing in archival work.
In addition to our committees, we have hard working club officers. I’d like to commend them on their efforts and take note that all of them are new to their jobs this year. I’d like to recognize VP Sherwin Kader, who is giving our Immortal Memory tonight and ran a club meeting this summer in my absence. There is David Brannan, who is doing a yeoman’s job producing our newsletter. He manages to keep it interesting in format and content. When he cannot wheedle articles out of the rest of us, he applies his own excellent writing skills with perception and humor. Frank Campenni our secretary takes thorough notes and types them up in an organized way. His sister Tori has graciously filled in for Frank at a couple of meetings. Between her and Frank, the minutes have aided our collective memory at the next meeting. Also, I’d like to thank Megan Schaefer, who has taken on the tedious job of treasurer.
I’d like to thank other club members for pitching in this year. Most notable is our own dear Pete Kucik, a former club president and a founding member, who has been a driving force within the club for many years. This year, in spite of health problems, she has come up with last minute meeting topic ideas--my favorite being the night she shred with us her own extensive Burns book collection, explaining the history of publishing of works by and about Burns. On top of this, she and her husband continue to host the club’s monthly meetings in her home, setting out a well stocked refreshment table and tolerating club members browsing through that wonderful book collection.
Another noteworthy item is the fact that we have a club tape, Burns by Day, thanks to a fomer club president, Ian Day. We may have bullied him into the recording, having enjoyed his recitations from memory of Burns’ poems and his delightful singing of Burns’ and other Scottish songs. He in good grace acquiesced and made that tape. And now he is planning to make another for us.
We always seem to attract new members who are of a high intellectual calibre and are willing to pitch in, sharing their knowledge and personal research into the life and works of Robert Burns. This year we managed to snap up Jock Smith and his wife. Jock is known internationally in Burns circles, having been in the past, and continuing to be, guest of honor at Burns dinners where he addresses the haggis and gives the Immortal Memory. In fact, he is in Scotland as we gather here tonight, an honored guest speaker at several Burns dinners. He is fresh blood for our club, and we look forward to his unique presentations at many future club meetings.
Lastly, I’d like to recognize those taking active part in tonight’s program. They have been active club members for many years or are special guests who graciously volunteered to participate. Among them are the Connors, who have come all the way from London, Ontario to be with us tonight. James Connor is a former president of the North American association of Federated Burnsians and a long-distance member of our club. As time is running on here, I will not mention the rest of tonight’s participants by name, but you only have to look at your programs to know who they are.
In closing, I’d like to say that our club is a small and intimate one. Other clubs across the country and around the world have 100 or more members each. Yet, when you look at the accomplishments of our club, not just this year but throughout its history, few other clubs can match its activity level and contributions to the study of Robert Burns. I am very proud to be numbered among its members, and I know that all of you are, too.
I’d like to give Robert Burns the final word in the form of a quote from his poem The Whistle. In these lines I think of the use of the word claret as any drink or toast we make when coming together as a club for companionship and the study of the life and works of Robert Burns.