History of the Club

SENIOR MEN’S CLUB
HISTORY OF THE CLUB
2021

THE ORIGIN

In 1956, Mr. R. S. Gregory, who had just moved to Birmingham from Plainfield NJ, where he had been a member of a club of senior men, visited The Community House.  His description of that club interested TCH leadership, who related it to the Birmingham Department of Parks and Recreation.

Parks and Recreation sent out several hundred copies of a letter to male residents 65 and older inquiring about interest in a senior men’s club.  68 responded positively.  A meeting of those interested was held on January 11, 1957.  In April, Club officers were elected, and Membership dues were set at a $1.00 per year.  A committee of Club Members formulated a Constitution and By-Laws, which were adopted on December 6, 1957.

THE EARLY YEARS

The Birmingham Parks and Recreation Department was most supportive of the new Club. 

Throughout the years, Friday lunches, which started at $0.60, were served by a group of dedicated Hostesses.  In return, on the last Friday of the year, Club Members serve lunch to the Hostesses.

Because TCH was closed during August when the Club began, through 2019, the Club had no regular Friday meetings during that month.  Instead, a picnic held annually from 1957 to 2019, which was enjoyed by all.

The Club also held a Christmas party in December 1957, and that tradition has also been replicated on an even grander scale, through 2019.

Membership, which does not include Associates or Life Members, was initially capped at 325, but has been increased to 500.  Attendance at the Club’s weekly Friday meetings is typically in the 150 to 250 range.  A certificate of thanks or token of appreciation is extended to each speaker.

GROUPS WITHIN THE CLUB

There are numerous groups within the Club.  The Discussion Group held its first meeting on August 7, 1958.  Games – golf, bowling, spinning, walking and bridge – are popular and reports of scores, standings and future events are given at the weekly Friday meetings.  An Investment Group, two Movie Groups, Camera Group, Computer Group, two Reading Groups, a Special Events Group, Genealogy Group, and several others have been added over the years.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE FIRST 50 YEARS

Announcements of forthcoming activities and items of interest began being published in The Reminder, the monthly Club bulletin, which was first published in October 1968, and now is an 8-page color issue each month.

In 1959, the practice of awarding Life Memberships to Members over 90 years old was initiated.  In 1968, Life Membership criteria became age 85 and 10 years of SMC Membership.

In 2004, the life experiences of 86 Club Members in World War II and Korea were recorded in a 216-page book entitled “The Wars of Our Generation.”  Conceived, planned, and published entirely by SMC Members, more than 1,200 copies were sold.  An added photo album and CD entitled “The Way We Were,” includes an address on the history of World War II by Rabbi Sherwin Wine.

In 2005, to broaden the Membership of the Club, the geographical limits on Membership were eliminated.  Periodic associate orientation meetings were added to welcome new associates and provide a comprehensive overview of the Club’s history, activities, and opportunities.  Associate Members are now granted active Membership upon acceptance of their application, an orientation session, and their introduction at a regular meeting.

The Club celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007 with a variety of outstanding events and accomplishments.  A DVD history of the Club was produced under the direction of Member Al Eicher.  The Club’s Constitution and By-Laws were given major updates.  Finally, TCH and the Club entered into a written Agreement that established a Legacy Endowment Fund (LEF), with funds contributed by Club Members.  The contributed funds and earnings thereon were held by TCH as part of TCH’s Endowment, but with the provisos that (a) the LEF funds, including earnings, were to be held by TCH but that there was to be a separate accounting of all transactions regarding the LEF; and (b)  the Club was to have a voice in how monies withdrawn from the LEF were to be used for the benefit of both TCH and SMC.  The fund was originally targeted at $50,000 for the 50th Anniversary, but exceeded $60,000 in 2007, and continued to grow.

THE PERIOD 2008-2017

Our Club is constantly seeking to improve.  In just the 10 years between the 50th and 60th Anniversaries, major improvements have included:

  • Tables at Friday meetings were changed from long rows of rectangular tables to a new arrangement of round tables, which provide more opportunity for fellowship.

  • Slide shows, which highlight recent activities, new Members, and other noteworthy developments, are shown before each Friday meeting.

  • Healthier and updated menu choices are now available for Friday lunches.

  • A Medical Emergency Preparedness Team has been created, and Members given training in life-saving techniques.

  • The Club has welcomed its first Members from the Indian American and Afro–American Communities, and men from those Communities now constitute an important part of the Membership.

  • A multi-level relationship with the Grosse Pointe SMC has developed and is expanding.

  • The Club has formed several new groups, including:

    • The SMC Chorus.

    • The Genealogy Group.

    • The Walking Group. 

    • The Spinning Group.

    • A second Reading Group, and

    • An Improvements Committee.

  • There have also been significant improvements within existing groups:

    • The special events group has introduced the use of cell phones for coordination during outings; provided the cell number of the event leader to each attendee for use if needed; established the annual Zabriskie Award; and organized and held a special event to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 2014.

    • The Reminder was expanded to a standard 8-page format and added Mystery Lyrics in 2008; began being prepared and printed in color and being distributed by email in 2009; and added Sports Trivia and Member personality profiles in 2010.

Probably the most dramatic change during the last 10 years has been the extraordinary implementation and expansion of the Club's use of the Internet.  The Club began using email around 2010.  John Paesano started development of the Club's website in December 2013.  Jay Kafarski joined the group in March 2014, and Jay now controls 99% of site design and content.  The website now is: easy to read; easy to navigate; devoid of “junk” - it is all SMC, all the time; consistent in look and feel throughout the site; and expanding, with ever increasing content, including: details of upcoming Movie Group presentations; display of digitalized Club history documents; a Member Directory with Pictures and Military service information; listings of the current and past Presidents and current and past recipients of President's Awards and Outstanding Service Awards; listings of the Members of each of the Club's Committees and of its many groups and the chair of each; and significant other types of information regarding the Club.  All announcements are now sent, under the overall control of Jay Kafarski, by “E-Blast,” which are distributed by email.  Most recently, the Club added the capacity to create and store its Photo archives on its website; and photos of current activities are also being added regularly.

THE CLUB'S 60TH ANNIVERSARY IN 2017

With overall direction by Dick Bradley and significant contributions by Tim McGee and numerous other Club Members, the Club had an outstanding 60th Anniversary year-long celebration.  Highlights included:

  • A gala evening at Birmingham Village Players in November 2016, including a special presentation of “Mame,” preceded by outstanding hors d'oeuvres and refreshments.

  • An expanded and updated the DVD.  The project, again under the direction of Al Eicher, includes a totally new segment which highlighted many of the Club's veterans of World War II and the Korean War; updates the Club’s History; and describes the full range of all of the Club's activities.  A copy was given to each Club member at the beginning of 2017.

  • Celebrations throughout the Anniversary Month of May, including:

    • Special speakers Senator Gary Peters, Archbishop Allen Vigneron, and Ron Fournier, Publisher & Editor, Crain’s Detroit Business;

    • Wonderful 60th Anniversary birthday cakes;

    • Special lunches each Friday in May; and

    • Newly-named “Senior Men’s Club Room” at TCH.

  • A full evening gala anniversary party on May 17 at the San Marino Club, highlighted by music from Danny Gurwin, and by 6 boards, each of which documented highlights from one of the six decades during which Club has existed.

  • A special concert by flutist (and new Member) Alexander Zonjic, during which the audience was thrilled by new renditions of numerous Motown hits.

  • A special 60th Anniversary tile developed by the Club in conjunction with the Pewabic Pottery Company.

Most importantly, Club members contributed some $290,000 to the Legacy Endowment Fund, which benefits TCH, in return for which TCH has a newly named “Senior Men's Club Room,” a permanent symbol of the Club’s on-going and valued relationship with its “Home,” The Community House.

EVENTFUL AND EXCITING 2019

Early in 2019, however, TCH informed the Club of the following:

  1. TCH was going to stop providing any “office services” to the Club.

  2. There were NO dollars in the LEF.  The $600,000+ that should have been there had been spent by TCH without any notice to or input from SMC.  TCH claimed that there was no agreement concerning any LEF, despite the existence of a written document formally signed by the Presidents of TCH and of SMC.

  3. TCH was considering whether to begin charging SMC for SMC’s use of each and every room SMC used, despite the payments that SMC was making to TCH, the tens of thousands of dollars SMC members were giving to TCH annually through an Annual Giving Initiative, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars that SMC members had given to TCH through the LEF.

Under the leadership of President Tim McGee, SMC responded by:

  1. Getting its own PO Box, arranging for an outside printing firm to begin putting The Reminder together, and moving forcefully to distribute as many Reminders as possible by email.

  2. Establishing an SMC Endowment Fund, separate from SMC itself, which qualified as a tax-exempt organization.  (The SMC itself does not satisfy the prerequisites for tax exemption.)

  3. Beginning to explore moving some or all of SMC’s activities to a location other than TCH, while continuing to negotiate with TCH regarding terms on which TCH would allow SMC to stay at TCH.

Despite TCH’s unilateral expenditure of all the $600,000+ that should have been in the LEF, SMC still raised over $90,000 in the Annual Giving Initiative during 2019 (one of the highest totals ever), all of which went to TCH.

Second VP Roger Timm and his Monthly Program Chairs did such an outstanding job that the average attendance for all of 2019 was the highest it has been in at least the last 6 years.

Finally, for many years, the cost of printing the SMC Handbook had been paid by a sponsor, under an arrangement made by Dick Bradley.  The sponsor declined to continue the relationship in 2019, but George Miller volunteered to pay the cost of printing the 2019 Handbook.

SHOCKING 2020

The Club entered 2020 continuing to discuss with TCH the terms under which the Club could continue to call TCH “home;” when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.  In March, the Club suspended all its activities, and TCH locked its doors and shut down all its operations.

SMC quickly worked together to overcome much of the disruption caused by COVID.

  1. In early April, Roger Timm purchased a subscription to ZOOM, and hosted a scheduled Reading Group meeting via ZOOM, followed by an Executive Board meeting the next week.  The Executive Board then authorized the acquisition of an SMC ZOOM account, and John Maten agreed run the Club meetings using the ZOOM account.

  2. Roger Timm and George Grove made the first contributions to the tax-exempt SMC Endowment Fund, and the funds they contributed will be used to prepare and print the 2021 SMC Directory.

  3. Because the Club was not allowed to meet in person, the pressure to resolve the issue of where the Club would meet dropped.  SMC, however, continued to explore other options, and has identified possible other venues that may welcome the Club.

  4. All Special Events, including the Picnic and the Holiday Party, have been cancelled, but the Special Events Committee has identified other ways in which Club Members can expand their horizon, including the first time SMC worked with NEXT regarding such a horizon expanding activity.

  5. As COVID restrictions were eased, golf, walking and some other sports activities were held.

  6. Because most Members’ activities have been significantly reduced, President Jerry Stribbell decided to hold regular Friday meetings, including through August, so that more meeting will be held in 2020 than in any earlier year.

  7. Second VP Swarn Rajpal and his Monthly Program Chairs have done an outstanding job of getting great speakers, even though all speakers have had to make their presentations over ZOOM.  As a result, average attendance during the ZOOM sessions is nearly at the levels achieved in 2018 and only slightly behind 2019.

So, despite the eventful and exciting 2019 and the shocking 2020, SMC continues to be a group of “Men on the Go!”

Roger Timm
Club Historian (November 2020)

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