This history covers the evolution of the Boys and Girls Club of Door County with reference to its predecessors and the definition of a need for a youth organization from the time when I became involved, first as a volunteer, in 2003 up to the time when the present building was purchased and modified to its present status. I have relied on my notes and recollections and similar recollections of Ben Larsen, Margi Larsen, and others.
Roger Anderson, Door County Youth Initiatives member, wrote a review dated May 31, 2001, at Allin Walker’s request titled “ A Review of Some Past Efforts to Provide Activities for the Youth of Door County.” It described and referenced the need for a place where teenagers could “hang out” safely without causing public disturbances. The review referred to a youth center that was run by Jim Larsen from 1947 to 1969. It was a place where students could meet and purchase snacks. Anderson’s review suggested the formation of a youth club such as Jim Larsen’s 1950’s club and ended with the statement: “The Jim Larsen Boys and Girls Club is an exciting idea that I hope can become a reality.” In late 2001 the Jim Larsen Boys and Girls Club began operation coordinated by Allin Walker with the assistance and support of Help of Door County and The United Way. A steering committee comprised of — among many others — Chuck Brann, Roger Anderson, and Hugh LeVoy. Hugh LeVoy was an educator who recalled his experiences when he was associated with a Boys and Girls Club in Chicago. The first funding of the club came from a State of Wisconsin grant.
The name of the club, The Jim Larsen Boys and Girls Club, was chosen with Larsen family permission to honor Jim Larsen’s work in establishing and running the original club.
The initial location of the club was the West Side public school, then no longer in operation as a school. At that time I became involved as a volunteer. The first executive director was Gail Johnson. Daily attendance was approximately 15 kids. The donation of a few musical instruments and a “music room” was an attraction but budget-limited staffing and activities that could be offered. Nevertheless, there was a focus on homework, art, music, games (the school had a large gym), and crafts (I taught knitting!). Due to a lack of kitchen facilities, the club could provide only minimal snacks. It soon became apparent that building maintenance costs, namely heating and cooling, were beyond the club’s budget. It was necessary to find a new location.
Circa the 2005 summer the temporary use of church facilities were arranged by the very accommodating pastor of the Sturgeon Bay Moravian Church, Pastor Knapp.
At the beginning of the 2005 school year, an empty classroom became available at Sunrise School. The club was also given scheduled times for the use of the library and indoor and outdoor playgrounds. Since the club was open after school hours a side door was made available for parents to pick up their children.
The Sunrise School facilities also became temporary. The school had to reclaim the empty classroom and another move became necessary.
The club kept going with the dedication of Hugh LeVoy, Margi Larsen, and board members. The Prince of Peace Church in Sturgeon Bay became the next location. At this point, the need for an executive director was realized. A search for a B&G Club of Door County executive director resulted in the hiring of Sally Hasenfus.
The Prince of Peace location provided ample space and the use of a kitchen giving us the capability of serving hot food to the children, who were often food deficient. We were able to host fundraising galas at Prince of Peace and at the Stone Harbor Resort. Fish fries were held at the Mill Supper Club and at the Jaycees’ building. Tables at the Jaycees were serviced by club members, kids, who took their assignments such as delivering milk, water, and desserts very seriously; services that were appreciated by the diners and resulted in some extra donations. Board members worked behind the counter serving fish, fries, coleslaw….
In March 2009 David Resch proposed a fundraiser: a golf outing followed by a dinner and an auction. This first Boys and Girls Club Golf Outing held at the Horseshoe Bay Golf Club on June 14, 2010. It proved to be popular and a successful fundraiser. This became an annual event chaired every year by David.
While the club was at Prince of Peace I recall three children, two girls and a boy from one family. The boy was a bit challenging. Many years later my husband and I had dined at a restaurant and we were preparing to leave. A young man who was bussing tables suddenly came over to me and hugged me saying “I remember you from the Boys and Girls Club.” I remembered him very well, a very active and challenging boy. I now learned that he was completing his civil engineering studies and already had a job offer.
I remember another member of the club at this facility; a ten or eleven-year-old girl who often told me she wanted to become a lawyer. When she graduated from high school, a star shot-putter on the track team, she asked me to be a personal reference on her college application.
These were my rewards for being part of the Boys and Girls Club. Despite the club moves and temporary locations, I know for certain that we helped some deserving kids.
It was during this time that a satellite location at Gibraltar School in Fish Creek was organized. It served ten to twelve members. Two boys and one girl, members of a Latino family attended. Their mother would bring them and stay to watch the homework sessions. She wanted to be able to help them when they did homework at home. Hugh LeVoy and I were regularly scheduled volunteers on alternating days. We assisted Anne St. Henry and the Club staff.
Facilities expansion at the Prince of Peace Church eliminated the space allotted to the Boys and Girls Club. This and the departure of executive director, Sally Hasenfus, left the club in search of both facilities and an executive director. Fortunately, Dave Pape stepped in as the interim executive director. Office space was obtained in the Door County Development Corporation Building and club facilities were relocated in Sawyer School. Again we had use of one classroom, the library, the gym, the outdoor playground, and the kitchen. A search for an executive director was successful with the hiring of Heather Powell. The availability of the kitchen and funding from Cynthia Stiehl’s MMG Foundation allowed us to begin serving Monday evening meals to our members (many of the membership, we learned, did not eat well during weekends). We also began serving snacks to the members as they arrived after school hours. The snacks were healthy snacks: sliced apples, yogurt, and raw veggies. These healthy snacks were not always received with delight. I still recall the boy in tears, his head cradled in his arms on the dining table moaning “Why do we always have to have healthy snacks? Why can’t we have a hot dog some time?” While the snacks weren’t “hot dogs” they were tasty, generally popular, prepared in a food program overseen by Susan Klein. Susan stayed with the club until her retirement in 2020. It was during this time that a Boys and Girls Club site was opened at the Southern Door School headed by Don Domencich.
The club was gaining in popularity not necessarily because of the “healthy snacks.” Membership was growing because it was a fun after-school place to be. It was growing beyond the capacity of the existing facilities. The club was now in need of a larger permanent place to be its home. The club board of directors initiated a search for permanent facilities led by Tom Lutsey. Tom had been a major player in the successful startup of the Green Bay Boys and Girls Club. This challenge was compounded when Heather Powell informed the Board that she would be leaving. Her husband had taken a position with a YMCA in the state of Washington. The search for a new executive director was not difficult. Heather recommended Julie Davis who had been working with her as the program director and could easily fill the position Heather was vacating. We were able to continue our facility search without a “break in the action.”
Five potential locations were under consideration:
The Baudhuin building became the choice. It was structurally sound and of sufficient size to accommodate forecast club growth. Purchase arrangements were made and funding was obtained to make the purchase and make considerable renovations. Walls were removed to create open spaces, a lobby was added along with a teen center. David Hatch through his former company Hatco, a manufacturer of commercial kitchens oversaw the design and provided the funding for a commercial kitchen. David Hatch’s substantial funding in addition to the cost of the kitchen was recognized when the building was named The David G. Hatch Center. Prior to the completion of the kitchen facilities and while we were still operating at the Sawyer School site, the need for an interim kitchen was resolved by the Masonic Lodge next door. They very graciously offered us the use of their kitchen facility.
Membership grew to more than 200 with a daily attendance of more than 100 members. A garage building was converted into a physical activities center by the construction of an enclosed access from the main building. As funding has become available internal and external changes have been made that have supported the addition of beneficial educational programs. A garden adjacent to the parking area, planted and tended by members, is a source of vegetables for the kitchen.
Some time after the club became affiliated with the National Boys and Girls Club, we learned that, based on the national club policy, we could no longer be officially designated as The Jim Larsen Boys and Girls Club of Door County. On January 9, 2012, with the agreement of the Larsen family, the club name was changed to The Boys and Girls Club of Door County.