The Block Island Club Celebrates its 50th Anniversary

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 5:30pm

This summer, the Block Island Club will celebrate 50 years of providing recreational activities to its members. The club, a not-for-profit run by a Board of Governors, is situated on the Great Salt Pond, and offers its members lessons in tennis, arts, swimming, sailing and other water sports.

In 1965, the original founders, Edgar Frazelle, Lawrence Pomeroy and DuPont Guerry purchased the 10-acre property that the club resides on today. When they bought it for $30,000, there were two buildings on the property, both of which were sold. One later became the Bayside Bed and Breakfast, the other was bought as a home for a family. 

Using the money from these houses, Frazelle, Pomeroy and Guerry hoped to use the lifesaving station near Old Harbor as a clubhouse. But Mystic Seaport bought it instead, and offered to build the club a replica of it, which is still used as the clubhouse today. In the 1990s, the club purchased its first fleet of JY-15s and JY-trainers for the sailing program and attracted many young children and teenagers.

Members of the Board say they have strived over the years to maintain a relaxed and friendly nature at the club. “I don’t think the club itself has changed, it’s still a casual place for people to sail, enjoy the Great Salt Pond, play tennis and gather,” says treasurer Elizabeth Beinkampen.

However, several minor changes have been implemented. The club was conceived in 1963 and opened its doors in June of 1964. Originally it was established as a true club with membership and an application process. 

“Over the years the club became a non profit organization and is completely open to the public with no application process,” says president Erik Elwell. Through time, classes in other areas, such as ballet and aerobics, have come and gone as well. In fact, the ballet bars can still be seen in the second floor of the clubhouse, which is now used for arts and crafts classes. Additionally, programs in yoga and paddleboarding have also been a part of the club in past summers. 

On the waterfront, the club has developed its sailing program in many ways. Over the past seven years, it purchased new Optimists and Vanguard 420s to replace the JY-trainers and JY-15s. Currently, sailing classes are open to all children over the age of eight and many adult members take out boats by themselves or with an instructor. Both children and adults are then given the opportunity to show off new sailing skills in Saturday morning and Thursday night races. The club also allows members to rent kayaks, paddleboards and windsurfers.

The tennis program has classes for children of all ages and hosts clinics and rallies for adults. Many members choose to rent out the tennis courts for use on their own time. 

Swimming classes are similarly available to all children. Since its establishment, the club offered swim classes in Middle Pond and later at the pool at Champlin’s Marina. Currently, swimming is taught in the Great Salt Pond, right off the beach of the club. 

Children of members take arts and crafts classes in the clubhouse. One project the class focuses on is the float for the island’s annual Fourth of July Parade. Additionally, the club has begun to offer a program called Outdoor Adventures each week in which children engage in outdoor play and exploration.

One attraction to the club that many members take advantage of are the children’s’ barbecues, during which the kids are invited to play games, make s’mores and eat dinner with each other and the staff.

“I think that it’s the casual nature of the club that makes people keep coming back. When my children were young, we started going there for them to learn to swim and sail, and then it turned into their home away from home in the summer,” says Beinkampen. 

Club manager Greg Pearson echoed this appreciation for the friendly atmosphere, “What makes the Block Island Club so special is the families… I think it’s fantastic the way families support the club and each other.” 

Currently, the club attracts about 175 families each year, who join as members for various durations ranging from one week to the entire summer. For many families, the club has played a key role in their summers and many children who once took classes there later return to serve as interns and instructors. In fact, this summer, only one member of the staff did not grow up attending classes at the club. 

“The best part of having a staff that has taken the classes before is they know what the kids want and how to make the classes more fun,” says Pearson. This sense of community is also evident as many generations of families have remained members of the club. 

“Many of the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the founding members are active in the club and continue the clubs legacy and commitment to instructing children,” says Elwell. 

In celebration of its 50th anniversary this summer, the club will host an evening party and fundraiser with live music, food and drink on July 19 for members and friends. “We’re really hoping that not only current members but also former members and friends of the club attend,” Beinkampen says.

Board members say they feel a responsibility to continue the founders’ goals of creating a beneficial environment for members and children. “We try to do this in the safest manner possible while allowing the children to grow and hone their skills,” Elwell says. 

“I really think that as a board member, more than anything else, I consider myself a steward in a long line of people that have supported the club and ensured that it’s there not only for people right now but for future generations,” Beinkampen said. 

The club is a great place for families living on the island or visiting during the summer to meet new people and engage in outdoor pursuits. For more information, check out the Block Island Club website or visit the club on Corn Neck Road.

 From The Summer Times, June 2014