Bits & Pieces


Isaiah Sebastian Workman was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado on November 1, 2005. Parents are Trevor and Tracy Workman of Colorado Springs. Isaiah came into the world weighing a healthy eight pounds, two ounces. Tracy is the daughter of  James and Gloria Adam, and Gloria is the daughter of Edgar and Joann Hutchison. Joanne is the daughter of Flossie Erwin Austin (1913-2003).


Brendan Lee Devening  was born December 30, 2005 in Emporia, Kansas. He weighed seven pounds, one ounce, and was nineteen inches long. Brendan is the second child of Michael Edward Devening and Shauna Marie Austin Devening. Shauna is the daughter of Steve and Linda Austin, and the granddaughter of Edgar and Joanne Austin of rural Altoona, Kansas.


Leo and Nancy (Erwin) Smith of Ardmore, Tennessee, report that they are great-grandparents. Their oldest grandson,  James Christopher MacDonald, and his wife Kristal are the parents of a six pound baby boy. He was born on October 16, 2005, and they named him James Aeden MacDonald

They further report that Jonathan Ryan MacDonald, their youngest grandson, just returned from a trip to England.  He is a senior at Auburn University in Alabama, and is an intern for Northrop Grumman Corporation, perhaps best known for the B2 flying wing stealth aircraft. Both he and James Christopher are the children of James and Bobbie Jo (Smith) MacDonald.


Madison Avent Russell, of Lake Oswego, Oregon, daughter of Elizabeth Avent Erwin Russell, and granddaughter of Mr. & Mrs. Julian T. Erwin , Sr. of Wilsonville, Oregon, is graduating from Lakeridge High School in June and has been accepted to the prestigious Minneapolis College of Art and Design for the fall semester. The seven hundred student college accepts students on SAT scores in  English, GPA, and, most importantly, on a complete portfolio of work examined by the school faculty. Congratulations Madison!


Bakersfield, CA, October 26, 2005 - A group of investors, the majority from Bakersfield, have partnered together and purchased the Bakersfield Blitz from the Arenafootball2 League. The ownership group, which calls itself Bakersfield Sports Partners I, also announced the fourteen-year Arena Football League veteran Gary Compton has been hired as the Blitz head coach.

We have combined local businessmen with outside individual investors, said Jeff Allen of Los Angeles, who is president of the partnership. Allen, 37, said he is a venture capitalist, mainly in Silicon Valley area near San Jose whose focus is on technology and digital media.

Bakersfield members of the partnership include Paul Press—an assistant coach and director of player personnel last year with the Blitz—who will also serve as the Blitz general manager this season; Scott Erwin, a realtor and certified public accountant; Scott Garrison, vice president of sales and marketing for Lightspeed Systems, Inc.; Scott Hacker president and CEO of Cambridge Home Mortgage, Inc.; and the Sherrell family (Dennis Sr., Dennis Jr. and Adam) that has been operating and/or participating on the Bakersfield Panthers semi-pro football team.

More information can be found at


Brendan M. Dennis, son of Lloyd and Janice Dennis, and grandson of Mary Elizabeth Erwin Plog, home for winter break from college, underwent an emergency gall bladder removal. He missed three weeks of classes at California State University at San Diego, but Mom reports that he is working hard to catch up.


Lloyd K. Dennis, father of Brendan Dennis above, retired January 1, 2006 from the Stockton Unified School District in Stockton, California. Golf anyone?


Ruth Erwin, with the London Tower Bridge in the background.

 Ruth and Don Erwin, of Lake Isabella, California, spent a week in London, England in early March. They visited the usual attractions, learned to navigate the underground (subway), but never quite got used to folks driving on the “wrong side of the road.” And, contrary to the advanced promise of the tour guide, it was cold and foggy there this time of year.








An article titled,  An Eighth Grade Education in 1895, which ran in the December 2005 issue of the Bagpiper, provoked considerable comment. Some, like the Editor of our newsletter, opined that there is no way most of us could have passed the test. Others were suspicious of the “test,” and suggested that it was probably not a credible representation of eighth grade evaluations of the era.

“Cousin” Mel Needham took the ball and ran with it. He visited the Salina Library in Salina, Kansas, and viewed some of the actual original school tests, as well as the Salina Journal newspaper article dated June 1, 2003 that instigated the article

in our newsletter. Mel reports that the news article appears to be accurate, and has provided us with a copy of the actual article. Following is an abbreviated version (less photos):


Salina Journal, Salina Kansas

News - Page A01

June 1, 2003


Put to The Test; Handwritten notes lend credibility to test
David Clouston
, Salina Journal

The grandchildren of former Saline County school superintendent J.W. Armstrong found handwritten copies of the grammar questions from the 1895 eighth-grade graduation exam in papers their parents had kept.

The proof is there -- the neat penmanship filling line after line on two yellowed sheets of tablet paper. Seeing the handwriting, Mary Laas thinks fondly of the memories from girlhood of her grandfather, J.W. Armstrong.

A pan of apples usually would sit on the dining room table at her grandparents -- not unlike apples students would bring for their teachers, and Armstrong had been a teacher. He also at one time had been the county’s school superintendent. Armstrong also had farmed and hunted buffalo with the likes of Buffalo Bill Cody.

He'd tell us stories. That’s why I think I'm so interested in history, Laas said.

The two yellowed sheets of tablet paper were discovered in a box of her grandfather's papers this spring by Laas younger brother, Joe Armstrong. Laas believes they put to rest one of the most tantalizing mysteries surrounding her grandfather -- that an eighth-grade graduation test administered in 1895 is indeed real, not a hoax.

It was in the folks' stuff, and when we divided it up, he (Joe) took it home and put it up in his closet, Laas said. I would like to find the answers. But we’ve gone through this stuff, and the answers weren't in with that.

An entry from Superintendent J.W. Armstrong’s journal, found by historian Judy Lilly in the Saline County Register of Deeds Office, shows he gave the exam on April 13, 1895.
Saline County students in 1895 were required to pass the test to graduate from
the eighth grade. The test first surfaced publicly when it was published on the Smoky Valley Genealogical Society’s Web page in 1996.

After some of the test questions were published in the Salina Journal, the test gained national notoriety when it was mentioned by Rush Limbaugh, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, National Public Radio and other media. Most stories and columns centered on the difficulty of the questions such young students were expected to know.

A typeset copy of the 1895 exam was re-discovered almost a century later by a local historian, Helen Crawford, who was working on a book about early school records from Saline County.

The publicity about the test has stirred up controversy over the tests' authenticity by some critics. But this spring, Joe Armstrong and his sister, Laas, discovered the hand-written draft of the grammar part of the test, piled with some of their grandfather's papers that their parents had kept.

Locating the rough draft of the test also dovetails with more research into the test conducted by Salina historian Judy Lilly of the Salina Public Library.

Judy Lilly, Kansas librarian at the Salina Public Library, has found school records that show only seven eighth-graders graduated in 1895, the year of the difficult test, whereas there were about 28 graduates the year before and the year after. Lilly located county school records filed in the Saline County Register of Deeds Office showing that the year of the test there were only seven graduates. Yet the year before, and the year after, there were about 28 graduates.

I'm thinking that the test must have changed from year to year. It appears there were so few that passed that year that perhaps the previous year or the year after, the test wasn’t quite so hard, she said.

The typeset copy of the test reads "Examination Graduation Questions of Saline County, Kansas. April 13, 1895" The test was administered to students at Salina, New Cambria, Gypsum, Assaria, Falun, Bavaria and Glendale Township.

The test covered six sections: grammar, orthography, arithmetic, geography, U.S. history and physiology. Lilly also was able to locate in the register of deeds office a journal kept by Armstrong, for that school year.

He would make an annotation, almost daily, that he was working on the exam test, Lilly said.

Mary Laas, granddaughter of J.W. Armstrong, has a copy of the grammar questions. A family photograph Laas has of Armstrong shows a dark-haired man with weathered hands with his wife and three sons. He was born in October 1854 in Tuscaraus County, Ohio, and came to Kansas in 1867, settling on a farm homesteaded by his brother four miles west of Salina. He died Sept. 2, 1939, a retired farmer at Hedville. Her grandfather was teaching school when he met her grandmother, Laas said.

An original critic of the authenticity of the eighth-grade exam has changed his opinion partially because of Lilly’s research. Gilroy, Calif., newspaper columnist Doug Meier first wrote on the Internet about his skepticism of the test in April 2002.

I do believe now the exam was really administered to eighth-graders, Meier said. The most interesting thing about that test is how many people failed it.

I think maybe this guy was a little overzealous, that he was trying to bring credibility to educators and education in Kansas. But, in any case, I’m pretty convinced that this thing is real.


It is hoped that the above answers some of the questions that surfaced as a result of the Bagpiper article. –Ed.


World Porridge Making Championship


The Scots take their porridge (oatmeal to us) seriously. They even have an annual porridge cooking contest, called the World Porridge Making Championship. It will take place in Carrbridge, Invernessshire, Scotland, on Sunday October 8, 2006, and is part of the Highland Feast, also known as the Highland Food & Drink Festival.

The title of World Porridge Making Champion is awarded to the chef deemed to have made the best traditional porridge using oatmeal, water and salt. As well as the coveted title, and the Golden Spurtle trophy, the winner of the competition, sponsored by Hanlyn’s of Scotland, the leading oatmeal producer, will receive a £350 hotel voucher and a cash prize of £250.

Lynn Benge, a local guest house landlady, was last years World Porridge Making Champion. Competition was fierce, with competitors originating from Scotland, England, Sweden, Spain and Israel. The line up included professional chefs, bed and breakfast owners, contract caterers, an engineer who is writing a book about porridge, and even a mother and son, looking to settle a long running family battle about who cooks the best porridge.

Thrilled at taking the prestigious title, Lynn commented, “I’m just absolutely elated. I have been entering every year for the past twelve years, and although I’ve come close before, I’ve never quite made the grade. Im just overjoyed to have won the championship this time around.

Lynn's winning recipe:

1 cup oatmeal, 3 equal cups of water, 1½ cup milk, ½ oz knob of butter, ½ teaspoon of salt.

Add to pan oatmeal, water & milk stirring all the time. Bring to the boil, add butter and salt keep stirring. Stir until thickens. Serve and enjoy…



Bonshaw Tower

Bruce Irving, owner of Bonshaw Tower and mansion, seat of the ancient clan of Irving since 1022, passed away June 8, 2005. Chris Irving, his son and heir, succeeded him as owner of Bonshaw, as well as laird of the clan. Chris Irving has shocked Irvings worldwide, however, by announcing that he is not in a position to live there, and that he has put the property up for rent.

“It seems strange that for the first time in almost a millennium there won’t be an Irving living there,” said Chris Irvine.

Bonshaw Tower & manor house. Photo by Don Erwin

 There is the tower of course, useful for defending against marauding Englishmen, but of more interest to prospective renters, perhaps, is the mansion. It consists of four reception rooms, six bedrooms, three bathrooms, a huge kitchen and adjoining dining room. The property also has a stable set up for several horses, and adjoins the River Kirtle which is populated with Sea and Brown Trout.

Rettie and Company of Edinburgh is the listing agent, and further details—should any of our “cousins” be interested—can be found at www.rettie, (click on “Countryside Lets”). The monthly rent is only £1,300 (about $2300) per month. Not a bad deal really, but the upkeep could be a killer. 


The Bits & Pieces column is intended to be a bulletin board for items of general interest to our extended family. The list of items on it is often short, not—it is suspected—because the list of family events was short, but because the Bagpiper editor was not informed of various family happenings or of items of general interest. This newsletter is purely for the benefit of our extended family. It needs the participation of everyone to make it interesting and informative. Please...remember to inform your newsletter of births, deaths, graduations, marriages, special events, etc., etc.                                                                  -Ed