It was 1988 and Dr. Thomas Benson of St. Andrews University left on a mission. The coming year – 1989 would mark the 250th anniversary of the first ship of immigrants from Argyll, Scotland arriving in North Carolina. He wanted to make a Scottish link and hopefully for an official Sister City bond.
His interest was intensified when he visited Oban – a community in Argyll and on the west coast the “Gateway to the Hebrides” – or the islands off of Scotland’s west coast.
We later celebrated the 250th anniversary of the first Argyll Colony, and our Mayor, Dr. Bill Purcell, visited Oban that year to extend an invitation Ian and Margaret Nicholson, leaders in the Oban community to visit Laurinburg.
They arrived in 1990 for an education visit that concluded with a traditional pig pickin’.
Similarities were found and the stage was set to move forward the following May. Fourteen “Delegates” from Laurinburg left for a week in Oban to meet with a similar Oban delegation.
An agreement – drawn up by Dr. Benson – was signed by all delegates where we agreed to share cultural, educational, and social customs.
As Mark Durham – who was then editor of “The Laurinburg Exchange” – and I returned to our room, we began questioning where this agreement would take us.
Initial ideas were tossed out, and as a former exchange student to Mexico in 1968; I tossed out the initial idea of a student exchange between our Scotland High School and their Oban High School.
Our plans were to select a good student or students and adult chaperone(s) who would live for a while in the home of Oban residents, experience Highland cultures, hopefully bond with their hosts; and in return the “Obanites” would come to Laurinburg for the same.
In 1993, I returned to Oban with another group to sign the final proclamation and had dinner with the head teacher at Oban High School, Mr. Brian Mitchell, to discuss the exchange proposal.
He was most receptive.
My earlier exchange to Mexico was paid largely by the Spanish Club at Scotland High School, so funds would have to be raised to insure that any selected
student(s) – regardless of their finances – would be able to participate. Different businesses, industries, and individuals in our community donated almost $2,500 and the Board of Education added $1,500. The next year the Laurinburg Rotary Club, then the family of the late Jane M. Purcell, and later the Scotland County Highland Games became regular contributors.
In the beginning is was a week-long exchange that began in October, 1993 with SHS student, Spencer Adams, and teacher, Ann Stack. The following March we hosted Oban students Nicola Meekin and Lisa MacKinnon (McNeill) along with teacher, Tom Laurenson. For almost two weeks.
From that point forward it was “off to the races” as they sent another group of 15 students and a teacher in October and we sent eight students, a teacher, and several other adults in November – including Colin McArthur of General McArthur’s Barbecue who gave Oban their first pig pickin’ on Guy Fawlkes Night.
From that point on we decided that the exchange would work best Oban students visiting Laurinburg in October when they have a two week break in school, and we will visit them for two weeks in June once we have completed school – and they are still in school until the last week of June. We mutually agreed that each group would consist of at least 10 to 12 students and two or three adult chaperones.
Since its inception approximately 550 students and 120 adult adult chaperones have participated as the 25th exchange reaches its midpoint – our group has returned but they will arrive the first week of October.
Long-term, trans-Atlantic friendships have been forged.
A few miles south of Oban an ancient stone bridge crosses the Atlantic Ocean from the mainland to Seil Island. It is appropriately named: “The Bridge Across the Atlantic.” Today, another, more modern, and longer bridge across the Atlantic connects Oban and Laurinburg.
Retired Laurinburg businessman Beachum McDougald, wrote this week’s Focus on Scotland, an effort by community leaders to make Scotland County a better place to work, live, and play.