Bob McQuillen memorial dance Saturday

Last modified: 7/30/2015 9:57:07 AM
Students of Bob McQuillen, who was both a legend of New England contra dance and a high-school industrial arts teacher, remember him for his tough, steadfast love. Mr. Mac wouldn’t let you slide by. He wasn’t afraid to let you know if you screwed up. And he would make sure you not only stayed in school, but that you turned your failing grades into the honor roll. And he did it all while earning the undying reverence of his students.

The Monadnock Folklore Society plans to carry on Mr. Mac’s legacy through a scholarship that will give students needing that extra push some tough love. It will pay for their college application fees, as well as provide other resources to encourage their further education.

To raise money for the scholarship, the Folklore Society will hold a dance in McQuillen’s honor at South Meadow School Saturday from 3:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Admission for the dance is $15, or $10 for just the evening dance. Students and senior citizens will receive a discounted rate of $7, while ConVal students only have to pay $5. Dinner will also be available for purchase. All the proceeds after expenses from the dance and dinner will go toward the scholarship. The Folklore Society is also accepting donations.

“He would be thrilled,” said Gordon Peery, who looked at McQuillen as a mentor. Peery corrected himself a second later. “I think he is probably thrilled. I don’t feel like he’s really gone. We don’t see him playing piano more. Just his presence... it’s a cool thing.”

McQuillen, who passed away in February 2014 at the age of 90, was recognized as “having a central position in the New England traditional dance music scene for more than fifty years,” when he was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2002. He composed more than 1,300 dance tunes, most of which he named after his many friends, both old and new.

McQuillen was also a teacher at Peterborough High School and later at ConVal High School, where he was known as Mr. Mac.

The Folklore Society first conceived of just creating a scholarship in McQuillen’s spirit, explained board member Peter Martel.

“Maybe we really want to help students get headed in the right direction who didn’t think they would go down the college path, or didn’t have the resources to begin with,” said Martel.

The idea became grander as they went along.

With many of McQuillen’s friends and former students performing, Martel said he hopes the dance has a good turnout of friends who enjoy Mac’s music. The QuillTones will perform first with Don Primrose calling. The QuillTones include Randy Miller, Peery, Tad Dreis, and McQuillen’s students Samuel Foucher and Matt Garland. Sarah Bauhan will host a jam session during dinner. And the evening dance features Todd Whittemore calling with the Sugar River Band.

Martel imagines McQuillen feeling both honored and overwhelmed by the whole affair. He retold a story shared on the Facebook page, “Remembering Mac,” in which McQuillen retreated to the bathroom on his 85th birthday because was overwhelmed with joy at the speeches being delivered in his honor.

Then again, McQuillen on stage was definitely a showman who lived for the limelight of contra dance, said Martel.

It’s kind of like getting paid to eat ice cream, McQuillen used to always say.

Benji Rosen can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228, or Follow him on Twitter @Benji_Rosen.


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