Other Dinner Traditions

The Indiana Society of Chicago has always prided itself on attracting star performers for its Dinner entertainment. The legendary Hoagy Carmichael was a mainstay of the Society. Veteran members recall with relish the dinner of 1955 when the scheduled headliner was unable at the last moment to make his appearance, so Carmichael sprang to the stage and gave an incomparable, impromptu performance that brought down the house. Fortunately, audiotape of that memorable event resides in the Society’s archives.

We were delighted that, at the 1999 Dinner, Randy Carmichael, Hoagy’s son, and his rhythm group performed tunes made famous by his father, marking the 100th anniversary of the Hoosier composer’s birth in Bloomington Indiana.

In earlier years the theater talents of members, costumed to the hilt, were showcased in satirical, if not downright silly skits. One such features an elephant and Santa Claus, who arrived on a donkey and passed out checks written on “The Banks of the Wabash.” Often stage sets were constructed to commemorate historical events such as America’s intervention in World War I. One featured a replica of trenches and ruins at the battle scene of Chateau Thierry. Other innovative Hoosier theme sets were the old Vincennes Fort and the Chicago Dearborn Street Station, complete with a miniature Monon Railroad train.

During the Depression and World War II, the good-humored spirit of the Society may have been subdued, but it never flickered out. In some years in the 1940’s and 1950’s, musical extravaganzas were produced with original words and music. As the 1950’s came to a close, big-name professional entertainers like humorist Herb Shriner truly enthralled dinner-goers. A parade of outstanding performers ensued: Phil Harris, the Smothers Brothers, Phyllis Diller, Tom Dreesen, Jerry Van Dyke, Rich Little, as well as Mark Russell, Kevin Nealon from Saturday Night Live, and Comedy Central’s and Indiana’s home town boy and Society member, Jim Gaffigan. Bippus-native Chris Schenkel had served as the Master of Ceremonies on numerous occasions.

Entertainment takes turns with traditional ceremony during the evening. The dinner is “officially” underway with the annual parade of the Culver Military Academy Color Guard followed by a hearty toast to Indiana by the Governor. Musical performers which have included the Purdue University Glee Club and Straight No Chaser from Indiana University joyfully signal the close, the Governor and Miss Indiana leading all voices in a stirring rendition of “On the Banks of the Wabash.”

Always one of the most anticipated traditions is the remembrance of Society members deceased since the previous dinner. The “Necrologist,” in a darkened room, begins by reciting a short poem by James Whitcomb Riley with its affirmation of the memory and spirit for ones living on. He then solemnly calls each of the departed members’ names while cadets extinguish candles in their honor. The orchestra’s muted strains begin to build, finally exploding into a jazzy crescendo of “Back Home Again in Indiana” as a celebration of their lives. “All honor to their Hoosier names!” asks the necrologist as shouts of “Hear, Hear” ring out and close the ceremony.