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Keeping history alive

Posted on January 31, 2023

Guests were able to participate in a Haggis March and sample the Scottish dish during Saturday night’s South Arkansas Preservation Society “Keeping History Alive” fundrasier and banquet. (Matt Hutcheson/News-Times)

SAHPS banquet funds historical conservation

El Dorado News-Times
News Editor

A celebration of local history and its preservation co-mingled with a lively Scottish theme Saturday night during the South Arkansas Historical Preservation Society’s “Keeping History Alive” banquet and fundraiser.

Organized around a Burns Night theme – which is a celebration of the Scottish poet Robert Burns – and held at the El Dorado Golf & Country Club, the fundraiser included a silent auction, dinner and an awards ceremony.

Ticket holders enjoyed Burns Night staples including the Haggis March – essentially an invitation to sample haggis, a type of meat pudding – and a Scotch flight. A hearty entree consisting of braised lamb shank with clapshot and mushroom ragout helped, along with the handful of diners who chose to wear traditional Scottish kilts, solidify the feaststyle atmosphere.

SAHPS maintains local historically-relevant staples such as the Newton House and the Gallery of History, which hosts exhibits including the Fitzgerald Collection, a vast archive of film memorabilia collected by late El Dorado resident Michael Fitzgerald. Several pieces selected from the Fitzgerald Collection were available for the silent auction.

Several other historical themes weaved into the evening were noted by SAHPS executive director Steve Biernacki, including nods to early 20 th century Prohibition in the glassware and the 100 th anniversary of the El Dorado Golf and Country Club.

“We’re right in the heart of the century of Prohibition. Prohibition actually started in Arkansas in 1912, when the state abolished the sale of alcohol. In 1920, it was passed as an amendment to the Constitution,” Biernacki said during the dinner.

Biernacki along with SAHPS curator Darrin Riley continued the explanations of the Burns Night and other historical themes as the evening continued.

An awards ceremony was also held to mark the contributions to historical preservation by several local people.

The Sterling Lacy Education Award was given to SAHPS board chairman and longtime educator Vince Dawson; the John Abbot Historic Restoration Award was presented to Richard and Vertis Mason; and the first ever Rachel McKinney Lifetime Achievement award was given posthumously to Rachel McKinney.

The El Dorado Golf and Country Club was also presented with a crafted award marking its 100-year anniversary.

Dawson, recognized for his years as a local educator, pointed out several of his former students in the audience after accepting the award.

“I just love El Dorado, love SouthArk and love SAU,” Dawson said, between regaling attendees with stories involving several people in the room.

Biernacki previously said Richard and Vertis Mason were to be awarded the John Abbot Historic Restoration Award due to their work preserving, maintaining and improving structures throughout downtown El Dorado.

“We’re so proud of you guys and proud you’re part of our community, that you took the time and energy and made El Dorado what it is,” Biernacki said when presenting the award.

“Next time you’re downtown, just look around – a lot of that has their fingerprints on it,” he continued later.

Biernacki said that no members of Rachel McKinney’s family were able to attend to accept the inaugural Rachel McKinney Lifetime Achivement Award.

“Rachel was instrumental in starting the South Arkansas Historical Foundation at the time… these ladies got it in their head ‘we’re going to save the Newton House,’” Biernacki said, before describing the series of fundraisers through the 1970s that resulted.

“She wanted it done and was going to get it done… thank goodness we have the Newton House and Preservation Society and can do all the things we do today,” Biernacki said.

He concluded by explaining the flame-shaped awards given out to the evening’s recipients.

“You see the awards that Mr. Dawson and the Masons received – they look like flames. That’s all about keeping history alive, keeping the flame of history burning. We designed the Rachel McKinney Lifetime Achievement award… it looks kind of like the infinity loop; it’s a dancer in an infinite dance. And that’s what history is, an infinite dance of story telling… Don’t stop [telling stories],” Biernacki said.