Wheelerville Club celebrating its 85th birthday

  • The Wheelerville Community Club, at 698 East Main Street, Orange, will host a steamers/chicken barbecue Saturday, Aug. 4, to celebrate its 85th anniversary. ATHOL DAILY NEWS/DEBORRAH PORTER


Staff Writer
Published: 7/26/2018 10:56:41 PM

ORANGE — The Wheelerville Community Club is turning 85, and has mellowed a bit since the time of early prohibition days, according to life member Roger Laffond of Brookside Road.

The Club, at 698 East Main St., will celebrate its 85th anniversary on Saturday, Aug. 4, with a chicken barbecue and live music to add to the festivities.

The barbecue will begin with steamers served at noon (while they last), followed by the chicken barbecue and all the fixings at 2 p.m. Music will be provided by the Whiskey Johnson Band, which will play a variety of rock ‘n’ roll music, from the 1960s to the present, from 4 to 8 p.m. There is no cover charge. Tickets for the steamers ($10), and chicken barbecue ($10) must be purchased at the club by Aug. 1.

Laffond, who has served as president a few times as well as on the board of directors, said he believes the Wheelerville started out as a political club.

“I think someone in Orange was running for office and people used to gather on a piece of land on Brookside Road by the railroad tracks,” he said. “Every year they would hold a big clambake there — although I don’t know how they got away with it during the prohibition days.”

That piece of land was sold, and the club was reestablished at its present site.

He said the membership in the early days was predominantly of Italian heritage, and diversified through the years.

The mission of the club, taken from the original document, is “To promote the social, fraternal and civic activities of its members; to provide entertainment, recreational activities and refreshments for its members; and to assist in promoting civic enterprises and community betterment.”

Charter members were: Vito B. Colo, Oliver J. Belloli, Angelo P. Cherichetti, Anthony J. Winoski, Harry M. Carey, Louis Belloli, Samuel C. Sahagian, Raymond B. Kelley, Theodore DeBonis, and Charles F. Olari.

During the Great Depression, which lasted through 1939, he said the Wheelerville Club was a rough and tumble place, “a dive,” where men went to drink, unwind and play cards. “It wasn’t all clean - it was pretty wild,” he said. He recalls early days when the members held large fish fries. “We used to cook up horned pout,” he said, “there aren’t any pout around anymore.”

Over the years, the one-room bar “matured” and drew members who were carpenters, electricians and plumbers who volunteered their time and expertise to build on and refurbish the place.

“Ninety percent of the improvements, and new kitchen downstairs, was done by volunteers,” said Laffond, who said he, his brother, a retired contractor, and his cousins, along with many others all pitched in to make improvements to the Club.

“We used to put on a lot of game feeds and worked really hard to hold suppers, dances, and host bands,” he said, “DJs were not really big back then.”

The club has been modernized, with the installation of a large walk-in cooler, updated bathrooms, a dance floor and new bar. “It’s three times bigger than it was before. We made it a nicer place” said Laffond, “we built the pavillion out back ourselves, but hired a company to do the roofing.”

Laffond said the operation of the club changes with each new board “some changes are good, some not.” One of the positive changes was the formation of the Wheelerville Women’s Club. “My mother was president, and it has evolved over the years,” he said, “I think they’re super!”

Alyx Laprise is President of the Women’s Club; Kathy Quader is Vice President and Brigitte Richards is Secretary.

The Women hold various fundraisers, such as Poker Runs and raffles. They host the Children’s Christmas party for club members, hold raffles throughout the year, organize and deliver food baskets during Thanksgiving and Christmas time, and help out at the Family Fun Day barbecue in September. Proceeds benefit the Santa Funds in Athol and Orange, Little Leagues in both towns, the United Way, Salvation Army, and others. “The Club donates a lot back to the community,” said Laffond.

“The Women’s Club does a super raffle and all proceeds go toward the Scholarship Fund,” said Laffond. He added that the Family Fund Day includes a chicken barbecue, hotdogs and burgers for the children, games for adults and children, and the Super Raffle.”

In addition to prizes, such as gift certificates from local businesses and other items, the club purchases two new bicycles, for a boy and girl each. “We have all the kids who are there put their name in a bucket for the drawing,” said Laffond, “and by the end of the say two kids go home with brand new bikes.”

The Club holds special events, open to the public, for Halloween, New Years Eve, Christmas and Super Bowl. They frequently host live bands on the weekend.

The facility can be rented out for birthday parties (he has celebrated his 50th and 70th birthdays there), bereavements and other functions. “Unfortunately we have had a lot of bereavements,” he said. When the kitchen is used, a deposit is required, but “if you leave it as clean as you found it, you get a refund,” he said. Applications are available at the club.

The downstairs with the kitchen has a capacity of roughly 80. “Seventy people, if you really want a lot of space around the tables,” he said.

The membership quota is 100 members. If a person is age 65 or older and has been a member for five years he is considered a life member and no longer has to pay dues. If the membership reaches its quota, additional members are added as “associate members” who pay dues, but do not have the right to vote on matters pertaining to the club.

The present Club Manager is Steve Karsch and the club is run by its president and board of directors. Bob Cornwell is secretary and a board member. Other board members are Steve Karch, Joe Merritt, Paul Pauilis and Sam Kaczmarczyk.

The main number is 978-544-3960.

Laffond said it is hoped the public turns out to help celebrate the Club’s 85th anniversary celebration. There will be commemorative t-shirts and pint glasses on sale.

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