Bristol Boys’ Club – 1907-2007

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In 1907, Jennie Peck and her friends saw a need to begin a club for boys. This church society agreed to start a boys’ club headed by its first president, Mrs. C. F. Barnes. The stated purpose was to organize and maintain a non-sectarian club for boys in Bristol, to promote morality, industry, cleanliness, temperance and good citizenship among them. All volunteers ran the club on North Main Street.

In 1912, the club hired its first full time superintendent, Pop Dillon and had a membership of 50 boys. The club was moved in 1912 to the J.H. Sessions and Son building at 106 North Main Street. Mr. Sessions offered free use of the building. In 1914, the club joined the Boys Club Federation. In 1918, the club moved to the Old Town Hall where it stayed until it moved to 105 Laurel Street when the building was completed on February 12, 1929. In 2014, seven years after merging with the Family Center (Girls Club), the Club moved to its current location at 255 West. Street.

The following includes some of the highlights and accomplishments over the history of the club from 1921 to the present.

• On September 20, 1921 the Women’s Auxiliary was formed and they provided suppers, arranged entertainment and promoted the interest of the boys for better citizenship.

• During the fall of 1925, carpentry and radio classes were offered along with supervised play class. 105 LAUREL STREEET (DEDICATION)

• On February 12, 1929 the Boys Club dedication was held at 105 Laurel Street

• The membership at the time of the dedication was 500 individuals.

• In 1937, the total annual attendance in the gym and swimming was about 15,000 with the playground running at 3,000. Additionally, 5,000 to 8,000 persons came to club as spectators.

• In September of 1938, the stated objective of the Boys Club Physical Department was to provide supervision, leadership and activities that will contribute to the individual increased power, vitality and normal development; as well as skills and attitudes that will make for self-expression, play, recreation, wholesome use of leisure time, to richness and fullness of life. They physical department of the club which includes gymnasium, swimming pool and playground had the largest number attending the club. (there are approximately 150 boys at the club each day the club was open)

• In 1941, the Bristol Boys Club became a center in the community for all types of meetings. Friday night dances (with jukebox and milk bar) were started for boys and girls to broaden the recreation program for the youth in Bristol. (last song was always “Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight”)

• In 1942, the OM’s staged their 1st annual OM show.

• In the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s the OM sponsored Snowball formal dances, and in the late 60’s and 70’s Sweetheart dances.

• The dedication of Camp Wangum was in 1945. Camp Wangum was located on the banks of the Housatonic River in the town of Salisbury. In 1942 Claude Rose, an Honorary Member of the OM’s located a run-down girls summer camp. The camp was acquired by the Boys Club and the older members financed major repairs, completely equipped the kitchen and raised funds to purchase ten aluminum canoes. 1948 and 1949 forty (40) boys who could not afford to go were sent to the camp at the expense of the club. The original wooden cabins were replaced. In 1957 a swimming pool was built. Camp Wangum was dedicated in 1955 with a total of 338 campers registered with transportation provided by the Club. The Camp continued operations until 1986.

• In 1946, the Forestville Boys Club started through PTAs from Green-Hill and Sarah Reynolds schools.

• In 1948, the Bristol Club began honoring an exceptional young member with a Boy of the Year Award now called Youth of the Year Award at the annual Recognition dinner.

• From 1952 to 1987 the Forestville Boy of the Year award was given to the boy who had been judged on his merits at home, school, church and his contribution to the club.

• In 1952, the dedication of the new Forestville Boys Club on Central Street was held. This building was a monument to and an investment in the future of the community.

• In 1953 the Boys Club opened classes at Stafford School on Friday evenings and at Jennings School on Wednesday evening.

• In 1954 membership in the Bristol Boys Club was 1,500 and the Forestville Boys Club was 600.

• In 1954, a group of OM wives entertained at the OM show. They were called the OMettes.

• In 1955 activities are for all boys, (7 years of age & older) athletic & non-athletic. Activities include basketball leagues, baseball, gym classes, tumbling, wrestling, boxing, library, television, print shop, wood shop, general crafts, weekly movies, dances, swimming and air riffle (under the supervision of Bell City Riffle Club)

• March 18, 1959 a Swim Program was created for the physically handicapped at the Bristol Boys Club under the supervision of Mrs. Terry Ottman.

• In 1960 Boys Club Extension program began at Jennings School on Wednesdays, 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. and at Northeast School on Saturday’s 9:30 a.m. to noon.

• In 1977, the Club offered the first Charles Kushlan Memorial Scholarship for the Youth of the Year. It is still in place today.

• In 1985, the Humanitarian Service Award recognizes individuals for their dedication, sacrifice and accomplishments in humanitarian service to the community.

• In 1987 the Forestville Club closed due to financial difficulties.

• In the early 1990s the name was changed to the Bristol Boys & Girls Club.

• In the 1990s the School-Based Before and After School programs were started. The School-Based helped establish a strong relationship between the Club and the Bristol Public Schools, and can be found in seven Bristol schools today. There is also a unit in Burlington.

• In 1990 the Plus Award was established. This award is presented to a woman, family or civic organization who unselfishly gives their time, energy and heartfelt devotion to people within the greater Bristol area.

• In 1990, the following programs were in full operation: Rifle Club, Cadet Basketball, Kids on Keys Computer Program, Pre-school, Print Shops, and News Club. Programs also included Smart moves, discussion groups, and weekend activities such as sleepovers, hikes and open swims. The “Keep Smart” component of Smart Moves provides parents with essential and up to date information about drug use, alcohol use and adolescent sexuality.

• In 1994, the Oliver Gaudreau Lifetime Service Award is presented to an OM who embodies the characteristics Oliver represented over his lifetime working for the benefit of the Club and its members.

• In 1995 the club opened a unit at Cambridge Park on Davis Drive. This unit remains open today.

• In 1997, the Special Service Award was presented for the first time and is now given each year to an organization which provides significant resources intended to enhance the lives of others in the Greater Bristol Community.

• In 2004 the Club opened Imagine Nation, A Museum Early Learning Center. This was the first children’s museum in the country to be operated by a Boys & Girls Club.

• In August 2007, the Bristol Boys & Girls Club merged with the The Family Center (Formerly Bristol Girls Club)

• Of note: Many inductees of the Bristol Sports Hall of Fame mentioned the Bristol Boys Club in their speeches crediting the Club with much of their athletic development.