One of the activities I miss about living in Fountain Hills is Monday Night dinners at The Club. With that in mind, I think I will forgo my history lesson on early-day life in Fountain Hills for this week.
Instead, The Club is my subject this week.
I relocated to the Las Vegas area about three years ago, after 62 years in Arizona and 44 in Fountain Hills.
I miss The Club and the fellowship each Monday talking with a group of friendly guys I’ve come to know over the 30 years I was a member. They made me an honorary member when I moved.
I miss those great Monday Night dinners.
I miss Bob Schmitz’s meatloaf and his berry salad. I miss Dana Saar’s gravy on just about anything he made it for. I miss Phil Gaziano’s Italian dishes. I miss anything cooked by Chuck Wuttke’s team.
Then there’s the annual meeting dinner, held in December. It is a tradition to have prime rib and shrimp cocktail at that meeting each year. It is prepared by the team captained by Russ Bonoguidi.
Yes, The Club is quite the place in town for a group of men that come from all backgrounds and states to socialize together and enjoy a good dinner prepared by one of the 10 cooking teams.
Each team has a captain and co-captain, who are all volunteers from the membership. They will select the menu, shop for the food and lead the preparation. The captain usually selects the menu and does the shopping with the co-captain on the weekend prior to the Monday that’s scheduled for them.
The largest group of guys I ever had to cook for was 144. It is probably the largest commercial kitchen in all of Fountain Hills. That is what you have to work with. The stoves, ovens, refrigerators and the dishwashers are all heavy duty and of the first quality.
Now I’m going to tell you a little history of The Club.
In 1978, a group of about 40 residents formed a supper club since there wasn’t much in the way of entertainment locally. They held a dinner evening once a month. For social activity most invited friends to breakfast, lunch or dinner in town. It was at one of those breakfasts that the men’s club was born.
John Ehrsam and his wife, Lois, invited a few couples to breakfast. After eating, the men congregated in the kitchen and the conversation turned to a discussion about the lack of activities for men living in Fountain Hills that may be interested in joining a men’s club.
After some discussion, it was agreed that it might be possible, and under the leadership of former U.S. Ambassador Idar Rimestad, they would contact all the men they thought might be interested in joining such a club.
Several meetings were held and finally, 40 charter members officially organized the start of The Club on September 1, 1978.
Rimestad agreed to serve as the first president until December 1, 1978.
Annual dues were set at $165 or $15 per month.
Harlan Collins and Ray Munde leased a second floor, 800-square-foot space in the Thirkhill Building on Enterprise Drive.
Rimestad, Joe Brown and Robbie Robinson loaned the Club a sufficient amount of funds to purchase basic furniture for the premises – an over-stuffed sofa and armchairs, card tables and a small bar with an ice machine.
Some members contributed machines for making coffee.
The Club was formed as a non-profit corporation of Arizona. Its stated purpose is “to provide a non-profit, non-political framework wherein all members may associate in friendly fashion for a civilized discourse and physical setting to which members may repair for relaxation.”
That sounds pretty serious for a bunch of guys getting together for dinner once a week, monthly happy hours, periodic parties and outings.
In the beginning, the men gathered each morning for conversation and to play cards or chess. Some of the men would bring in donuts and sweet rolls and that became a tradition. I became an official member in 1990.
Actually, I was an unofficial member much earlier than that. The Times offices were located below The Club. When the Monday night dinners were held, I was working late on Monday nights typing last minute stories for our Tuesday deadline.
Joe Kafka is credited with starting the Monday night dinners. The Club started them after Kafka installed a small kitchen at The Club. Aromas coming into my office were all I could take (especially Charlie Thompson’s beef burgundy) on an empty stomach. I also remember working on a Saturday night many times when The Club held parties. The dance floor was directly above our production room. On several occasions I could see the ceiling moving above me as I was putting together ads I had sold that week. I kept praying that the ceiling did not come crashing down on me.
Membership rose at first but went down again. There was a decline during the 1982 recession. Leadership rose to the challenge.
By 1983, it became obvious they had outgrown the Thirkhill Building for meetings and especially for parties.
In 1984, a new corporation was formed called the Enterprise Drive Corporation (EDC).
Duane Johnson was selected president. of the new corporation with the single purpose of acquiring a site and constructing a building that would be leased back to The Club.
Mosley Builders was hired as the general contractor and construction partners were Jack Bercel and Bill Lavoie.They built the building at a cost of $225,000. Groundbreaking was on Dec.2, 1985.
In 1998, Cliff Johnson was the president of the EDC who in 1985 funded the construction of The Club building. These forward-thinking men made their personal investment to provide the Club permanent meeting quarters, on a rental basis, with the understanding that, when The Club was financially able, EDC would sell them the building at the original cost.
The board agreed that the purchase should be pursued. A group of members was formed to determine financing options for the estimated $250,000 purchase (the original construction cost).
Without Cliff Johnson’s personal involvement, integrity and leadership, the successful purchase of the building at below-market rates would not have occurred. Many were involved, but one man made the difference. Cliff Johnson was that man. He served as The Club president in 1992.
As for things to do at The Club, there are a variety of activities each year such as a new members brunch, holiday parties, Friday happy hours and a Super Bowl Party. (And you can bring your wife or girlfriend.)
For those of you who like the outdoor activities, there are golf groups that play regularly with weekly competitions. The list of parties varies each year.
For those of you who like adventure, there are the Backroads (4-wheel drive vehicles) and Trailblazers (motorcycles), who go into the scenic mountain areas of Arizona on day-long outings.
There are weekly card games played by members.
Or if you are just looking for a place to take a nap in the afternoon, come on down. There are soft reclining chairs in front of big screen TVs. And feeling fully rested from your nap, you may want to shoot a game of pool on the regulation-sized billiards table.
If you are interested in learning more about the Club’s activities or on becoming a member, check the website, theclubfh.com.