What do a turkey, duck, and chicken have in common?
Each was a prize in The Menomonee Club’s first raffle in 1946.
The Menomonee Club has grown over the years, but still remains committed to its original goals – serving the community and its children.
The Club, a not-for-profit organization, was founded in 1946 by a group of concerned Old Town neighbors to “provide wholesome recreation as a means of keeping children off the streets.” With the help of the North Side Boys Club, the group rented an Old Town storefront and began offering ping pong, shuffleboard, boxing, baseball, woodworking and choral singing. Membership was 50 cents and more than 100 children joined during the first few weeks. It started out being a boys’ club, with girls allowed in once per week. That didn’t last long. Soon, girls were coming regularly and The Menomonee Club for Boys and Girls was born. Kids gathered to take lessons, play checkers, and just hang out.
In 1950, the Club’s director Joe Vitale, discovered a two-lane bowling alley on Willow and The Club was able to buy it for $13,000. Its founding members scraped together a down payment and spent the next four years raising the rest of the money for the Menomonee Clubhouse. When it was finally paid for, a celebration was held – a mortgage burning party!
Menomonee funding has always been tied closely to the neighborhood. In 1948, the Old Town Triangle Association formed to preserve and improve the neighborhood. The Crilly Court Jamboree, a block party, was held to raise money for a playground. The event was so successful that the Crilly residents decided to expand their mission to include The Menomonee Club and other neighborhood activities.
The group decided to hold an art fair called “Old Town Holiday” in June 1950. From here, the Old Town Art Fair, sponsored by the Old Town Triangle Association, evolved into a nationally-known event. Held the second weekend of June each year, it’s the oldest outdoor juried art fair in the country. The Fair is run entirely by volunteers from the Old Town Triangle Association and The Menomonee Club. The Fair’s proceeds are a major source of support for the club and other community organizations.
In 2004, with a major gift from the Drucker Family Foundation, the Club bought and rehabbed a building in Lincoln Park, the Drucker Center. The Drucker Center has two gyms, two performing arts studios, a fencing gym, and other multipurpose rooms. While the main office relocated to the Drucker Center, the Clubhouse continues to provide programming space. We are in the process of renovating the Clubhouse to return it to its original use in the neighborhood, a two lane bowling alley!
Since its beginning, the Club has fostered a sense of community and caring. Today, serving over 2,000 participants per year, the Club continues to fulfill its mission of providing children and families with quality recreation and enrichment activities that foster growth and development.