The first annual Business Men’s Banquet, a forerunner of the Kingdom of Callaway Supper, was held on January 18, 1906, at the Palace Hotel in Fulton. The gathering was restricted to male owners of Fulton business firms, who were often called on to raise funds for civic enterprises. In about 1918, it was decided to invite all of the men in the county, with the president being from Fulton one year and from the county the next year.
In 1919, the name was changed to “Kingdom of Callaway Supper”. President J.H. Atkinson, in his opening remarks to 328 men, said, “The supper is not an organization, but an institution.” It was at this gathering that Judge David H. Harris launched a movement to erect a new county court house to replace the original built in 1826. “Providing $125,000 for a new court house is neither an extravagant or difficult problem,” he stated.
In the early 1920’s, it was decided to invite women as well as to honor a native Callawegian who had left the “Kingdom” and attained a successful career in his chosen field. By 1924, the program was moved to Pratt’s Theatre due to the increased attendance.
The 1936 annual event had a limited attendance of 707, the capacity of dining room facilities of five local churches, where the meals had been served since about 1912 by the church ladies. Many more than this number attended the program at the “New Fulton Theatre.” The 1937 program announced the first awarding of the McCubbin Callaway Cup. This award was presented to an individual or organization in recognition of outstanding service to the community throughout the year. During the 1940’s, local cafes were added to the list of eating facilities with the Fulton High School auditorium being the scene of the 1947 program.
Sovereignty of the Kingdom of Callaway was reaffirmed at the 1961 supper with the appointment of Dr. David Horton as “ambassador and minister plenipotentiary” to the nation’s capitol. Since the county became a kingdom during the Civil War, it was felt that the 100th anniversary of the war was an appropriate time—even though it was only temporary. Dr. Horton was on leave of absence from Westminster College and was in Washington, D.C. at the time.
For the first time, two native Callawegians were feted as Guests of Honor at the 1971 event. To quote one of the honored guests, Ruth Dunham Dodge, “There are a great many unfortunate people who had the misfortune to be born elsewhere.” In 1973, the church women’s organizations felt they could not continue to accommodate the attendance any longer, so the supper was moved to William Woods College, where it continues to be held. The first woman presided over the historical supper in 1990.
Outstanding guests of honor, speakers, and presidents throughout the years have contributed to the success of the Kingdom of Callaway Suppers, but the loyal and dedicated citizens of the county have been the most significant sustaining factor. The Kingdom of Callaway Supper is a fine example of a tradition that holds us together—that gives us a yearly opportunity to ponder the fates that have brought us to our county. Young and old alike enjoy a special kind of fellowship in honoring one who has “strayed” from the fold to find success and return to receive the plaudits of fellow Callawegians and friends.