Winnipeg bagpiper returns to Sioux Falls for St. Patrick's Day

The Khartum Pipes & Drums have been a staple of the parade and celebration since 1987.

Khartum at Sylvias.PNG
The Khartum Pipes & Drums outside the home of Sylvia Henkin near McKennan Park in Sioux Falls in 2013.
Contributed / Kelly Eldridge

SIOUX FALLS — The Khartum Pipes & Drums were a staple of the St. Patick’s Day festivities in Sioux Falls for more than 30 years.

The roar of bagpipes, crisp drumming and Celtic authenticity produced by the Winnipeg-based group set the tone at the front of the annual parade for many years.

Bad luck and the pandemic has kept the band from attending since 2018.

That run was supposed to end this year as a pared-down version of the Khartum Pipes & Drums had a full schedule of appearances today and Saturday, March 18.

Yet another winter storm ended those plans.


One member, however, braved the conditions and arrived in Sioux Falls on Thursday to, if nothing else, reconnect with friendships forged over decades of visiting hospitals, nursing homes, mayoral proclamations and street performances.

“The friends I have made in Sioux Falls are unbelievable,” said Kelly Eldridge, who’s been making the trek since 2000. “I could spend a couple weeks in Sioux Falls and probably not spend enough time with everybody.”

Eldridge learned to play the Great Highland bagpipes after joining a local Masonic Lodge in 1995.

“They say that it should be easy because there are only nine notes but it took two years before I put a bagpipe on my shoulder,” he said.

Khartum 2017 SF.jpg
The Khartum Pipes & Drums band from Winnipeg, Manitoba, with St. Patrick's Day parade organizers at the El Riad Shrine Temple in Sioux Falls in 2017.
Contributed / Kelly Eldridge

That led to a slot in the pipe & drum corps in the Khartum Shrine chapter. Today, Eldridge’s son and daughter are accomplished pipers as well.

When Eldridge started traveling with the group to Sioux Falls, about 40 Shriners piled into a bus and head south playing bingo to raise money for the Special Olympics in Sioux Falls.

Squeezing money out of the largely Scottish-influenced Shriners from Winnipeg isn’t always an easy thing, said Eldridge.

“When the price of bingo went from five dollars to six dollars on the bus, everybody had a fit,” he said. “When it went to 10 dollars, look out.”


The Khartum connection with Sioux Falls began in 1986 at a regional pipe & drum festival. The collected bands were playing at McKennan Park when a woman walked up and started talking to one of the Khartum members.

That woman was Sylvia Henken, who organized the first St. Patrick’s Day parade in Sioux Falls in 1980, and lived across the street from the park.

Boys Class A basketball tournament, an international dignitary and South Dakota Symphony also part of a busy week in Sioux Falls.

“We were just lucky that she marched across the street and started talking to one of our members rather than one of the other bands in attendance,” Eldridge said.

That chance meeting led to an invitation to attend the growing celebration in 1987. The Khartum Pipes & Drums have been a staple in the parade and two full days of appearances ever since.

That is until a blizzard made the trip impossible in 2019, followed by the pandemic in 2020 and 2021. The parade returned last year, but Covid protocols made crossing the border very difficult.

That set the stage for 2023.

Alas, the storm that swept through the Upper Midwest on Thursday canceled those plans as well.

Only Eldridge was able to make the trip, less as a performer than a friend. Eldridge did bring his pipes, however. So if you see a lonely piper tonight and Saturday, that’s probably him.


He credits El Riad Shrine of Sioux Falls and organizers from the Chamber of Commerce — Cindy Christensen, Valerie Wilson and Teresa Tonderum Schreier — for making the event something the group looks forward to every year.

And, of course, Sylvia Henkin.

When she passed away in 2018, Eldridge and a contingent of pipers played at her funeral.

“I can’t say enough good about that lady.”

Patrick Lalley is the engagement editor and reporter for Sioux Falls Live. Reach him at
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