Birth of a Bridge Club
By Carl Gerbracht
This is the story of the beginning of the Jacksonville School of Bridge, 3353 Washburn Road, Jacksonville, Florida, prepared at the request of its manager, Mary Hinson. The facts related here were provided largely by the people listed as Sources and verified to the degree possible by the writer, who is solely responsible for any errors and omissions.
Duplicate bridge has been played in Jacksonville for a long time. Early games, some of them well before WW II, were played at the Seminole and Windsor Hotels, the YMCA (Jacksonville Duplicate Bridge Club), the Friday Musicale, the Lake Shore Woman's Club, managed by Ruth Harmon, the Atlantic Beach City Hall, where Marian Pridgen directed, and the home of Marlon and Paul Remlinger in Avondale. Some of these games were quite large, providing 20 tables or more. There were also a number of smaller in- home games offered by Stena Stoker, Lore Beeler, Mary Hillegass, Frances Johnston and others.
In the mid 1960's a group consisting of Eddie Hazelhurst, Pat Miller, Marian Pridgen and Pat Scherman formed the Surf Duplicate Bridge Club, which offered games first at le Chateau Restaurant, later moved to Bill's Bar (better refreshments ??), and still later to Strickland's Restaurant until Eleanor Slater arranged a more convenient location at the Jacksonville Beach Community Center. Bob Huber was the first game director there until Sparky Veal took over in 1966. Sparky also directed a game at the Mayport Naval Station during the same period. In June of 1969 Lorraine Seward started directing the game at the Jacksonville Community Center, which was played on Mondays. Lorraine had begun directing duplicate at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station. She also opened a game at the Londontowne Apartments, and shortly after she began directing the Monday game at the Community Center. She moved her Londontowne game to the same location on Wednesdays, and so directed two very successful games there for over 20 years.
In the early 1970's Jean Creed started a game at the Oak Apartments in Arlington, which she later moved to Fort Caroline and then to Spanish Oaks before settling at an apartment complex on Southside Boulevard near JTB Boulevard. That game, at its various locations, was well attended for more than 20 years as well.
In the early 1980's Ron Wilson began teaching and directing duplicate bridge in Jacksonville. He taught bridge classes primarily at the Florida Community College (FCCJ) and at the Jewish Community Alliance (JCA), reaching more than 1, 000 students over the years. He also directed a number of games, some at his home on Southside Boulevard between Beach and Atlantic, and at other sites from time to time, including the Selva Marina Country Club, Fleet landing, and the Ponte Vedra Inn among others, billing his games as “The Friendliest Game in Town". Liz Fujii helped with some of the games and often provided refreshments. At one time Ron had six games going on different days and evenings and also filled in for other directors when called upon. He was the first director locally to use a computer for scoring.
By the late 1980's the largest regularly scheduled duplicate games were those managed by Lorraine Seward at the Jacksonville Beach Community Center, Jean Creed at her Southside apartments, Ruth Harmon at the Lake Shore Woman's Club (where all game proceeds went to local charities and still do today), Marion Remlinger in Avondale, Ron Wilson at his various locations, and for a short time Joe Collins at the Helen Collins Memorial Bridge Center at Jacksonville Beach, where Ron Wilson managed the games and directed most of them with occasional help from Hal Groover, Bob Huber, Lyle Townsend and Ruth Williams. In 1989 Lucy Yearwood started a seniors' game at the Jacksonville Beach Senior Citizens Center.
At the close of the decade there was not any one place that could be called Jacksonville's "Bridge Center", such as one finds in many Florida cities and towns. The Jacksonville Beach Community Center probably came closest to that description, but other civic affairs increasingly interfered with the games held there, forcing the temporary use of places like the Ramada Inn and the beaches' Garden Club, where the facilities were not the best for bridge play ..
Fire safety regulations also limited the number of players allowed in the Community Center, worsened by the storage of numerous food cartons and other community supplies, to the point where it actually became necessary for players to reserve seats a week or more in advance, which many considered inconvenient in the extreme.
To compound the gloom, talk persisted among civic leaders in Jacksonville Beach about the eventual razing of the Community Center as a part of community restructuring. It seemed clear that some action was needed on the part of the bridge--playing community.
In January of 1992, into this desert of despair a fortuitous seed fell. Joan and Bob Trowbridge arrived one day at the Community Center expecting to play bridge. About to enter the building they encountered a number of players coming out. They greeted Dottie and Pat Yates and others and inquired the reason for the exodus, and learned that the fire marshal's occupancy limit had been reached; no more players could be admitted. Other over-quota players joined the general grumbling but eventually drifted away to other pursuits for the day. Driving homeward Joan and Bob pondered the problem and discussed the possibilities of a Bridge Center for Jacksonville.
In the weeks and months ahead they talked to people involved in similar endeavors in other towns. They wondered whether buildings suitable for conversion to the purpose were available, whether new construction would be necessary, and where it should be located. They made a study of ZIP codes of players to discover the demographic center. They made preliminary contacts with realtors; they spoke with bankers. They even asked Bob's brother-in-law, John Hollifield, to sketch out a building plan, which resulted in a (no-cost) professional rendition, since John is a licensed architect. They explored possibilities of civic support of similar enterprises, made estimates of possible costs and thought about next steps.
They soon came to feel that the idea had possibilities, though it was clear that a lot of hard work lay ahead. To appraise the sentiment of bridge players on the subject, they decided to hold an organizational meeting at their home in Ponte Vedra on June 6, 1992. Its principal purpose was to test the viability of the idea of a Bridge Center and to enlist support of others if possible. Twenty-three bridge players gathered on the appointed date.
Here are excerpts from Joan's minutes of the meeting:
… “It was evident that everyone in attendance supported the concept of a central facility … many pledged time, money and support .... Lorraine Seward led the way by pledging $500 … fund raising ideas were presented several key committees were formed and people volunteered to serve on them… $17,000 in pledges were collected .... "
Enthusiasm increased among the pioneer group. Bob Trowbridge presented the idea of a Bridge Center at the Monday and Wednesday games, and while there were some naysayers, not unexpected whenever change is considered, the response from players was generally positive. By the second organizational meeting, held on July 9th at the FCCJ, arranged by Larry Griffey, Joan was able to report that 83 pledges had been received for a total of $129,050. Joan Trowbridge and Joe Collins were co-chairing the Fund Raising Committee and going at their task with vigor, devoting many hours of effort.
An interim Board of Directors was formed, pending specific criteria for Board membership to be included in the By-Laws, which were being prepared. The interim Board would consist of people whose financial pledge amounted to at least $10,000.
In the meantime Retha and Ken Zearfoss ,had been spending a great deal of time looking at property, projecting operating costs, and analyzing the particulars of meeting those costs, including estimates of numbers of tables and the table fees which would be required.
Lally Nooney reported progress in the preparation of By-Laws, and Craig Hemphill offered to prepare the necessary Articles of Incorporation for submission to Tallahassee.
Things now began to pick up speed. By the July 26th meeting interim officers had been selected to serve until formal elections could be held. Bob T. was named President, Carol Porter Vice-President, Jean Litchford Secretary, and Ken Zearfoss Treasurer. Within two days of that meeting $179,000 had been pledged by 144 players.
The next meeting, August 5th, once more at FCCJ, concentrated on site selection. By that date construction of a new building had practically been ruled out by estimated costs, which ranged from $400,000 to $500,000 counting the property needed for parking. The choices among existing structures had been reduced to two: The Washburn Road site and another on St. John's Bluff Road, both of which were reasonably near the demographic center of the home addresses of players. In fact a tentative agreement had been reached to purchase the St. John's Bluff Road property; but a contingency clause permitted the examination of certain features which were still to be studied more carefully, such as costs of renovation, availability of funds, zoning, various permits, wetlands preservation, water and sewer, and other similar details. Nevertheless four building contractors were at work preparing estimates for remodeling, preliminary plans for which had been prepared by John Hollifield, once more at no cost to the club.
By this time the term “Jacksonville School of Bridge" was being used to describe the enterprise. The idea of teaching bridge as well as playing, repeatedly emphasized by Ron Wilson, had been generally accepted. Teaching was expected to provide new players, opportunities for upgrading playing skills, and also the learning facility might provide favorable tax treatment for the club and would be helpful in securing zoning approval. In point of fact it turned out to be crucial for zoning.
The leadership, with the hope of increasing interest and participation by the players, was now preparing periodic News Bulletins covering progress on the new Bridge Center. The August 28th News Bulletin reported that pledges had reached $190,615. The September Bulletin was a Status Report by Treasurer Ken Zearfoss. It reported the establishment of a bank account and the receipt of $1,300 in donations from Joe Collins, Marion Remlinger and Eleanor Wishart for on-going expenses. A recent raffle had also netted $2,206, which went into the bank account, as did a $2,000 donation from the Surf Club, which held the franchise for the Monday game. The term "franchise” meant in effect that they owned the game, and that it was sanctioned by the ACBL.
The September 9th< meeting of the Board discussed, modified and adopted the By-laws. The interim officers chosen at the July 26th meeting were now officially reelected accordance with the By-laws and two additional officers were provided for: corresponding secretary, for which Joan Trowbridge was elected, and an assistant treasurer, for which no choice was immediately made.
Also Ron Wilson agreed to turn over six of his franchised games to the Jacksonville School of Bridge (JSB) according, to the terms of a contract worked out with him. The Surf Club turned over its Monday game and negotiations continued with Lorraine Seward concerning the turnover of her Wednesday game to the JSB.
At the October 7th meeting of the Board, Ken Z. reported the news that the St. John's Bluff property had to be ruled out. Costs for purchase and renovation were prohibitive, but there were other problems as well, including water and sewer, zoning and an apparent labyrinth of' uncertainties concerning environmental impact and wetlands preservation. He advised pursuing the Washburn Road property while continuing to examine any other opportunities which might become available. His recommendations were accepted and he was authorized to follow up on Washburn.
At that point pledges totaled $201,315. This excerpt from Ken's October 26th report is noteworthy:
…I believe you will find the Washburn property to be a superb acquisition. The location is less than five minutes from both the beaches and St. John's Bluff. The building is charming, comfortable and well constructed. The playing area will accommodate at least 40 tables ... “
(Subsequent renovations increased the capacity to at least 50 tables.)
By the November 4th meeting of the Board, Ken Z. had negotiated a tentative agreement to purchase the Washburn property for $225,000 - down from the $280,000 asking price. Anticipating another $50,000 for renovations (the original building was an office complex) and $15,000 for new furnishings - carpeting tables, chairs, etc. - it appeared that some $290,000 would be needed, and $300,000 would be better, roughly $90,000 more than the total pledged to date.
Meantime, discussion with lending institutions had revealed that interest rates for the type of loan needed would be well in excess of 10%; so another financing plan had to be considered. Much discussion resulted in the following: if the people who had already pledged $10,000 or more, regarded as PATRONS, would care to Increase their pledges, the club would pay 9%. Interest on the new money, with the understanding that these 9% loans would be the first to be paid off after the club began operations. The offer brought $115,000 in additional pledges. As a result, no commercial loans were required, avoiding a lot of red tape, loan guarantees and the added cost of paperwork. The club was now "ready-to-Launch", with the fervent hope that no substantial withdrawal of pledges would occur. Bob T’s November 16th News Bulletin showed a total for "active" pledges of $279,590, as a few pledges had been withdrawn for a variety of reasons.
At this point the Board recognized six categories of money or pledges:
- DONATIONS (Up to $499)
No interest, no payback, but gratefully received.
- FOUNDERS ($500 or more)
no interest; no payback.
- SUBSCRIBERS I ($500 to $4,000)
No interest; payback within ten years.
- SUBSCRIBERS II ($5,000 to $9,000)
7% Interest for over $1,000; ten year payback.
- PATRONS ($10,000 and up)
7 1/2% interest for over $1,000; ten year payback.
- PATRONS PLUS ($11,000 and up)
9% interest for over $10,000; ten year payback.
Names of contributors in categories 2 to 5 were to be memorialized by plaques posted in the club building.
It was further decided to issue promissory notes for money loaned to the club and membership on the Board was to be made available to anyone who pledged $5,000 or more, rather than $10,000 as originally planned. Ken Z's 'Figures showed that contributors in categories 4, 5 and 6 had pledged 84 percent of the total and therefore had the largest stake In the financial welfare of the enterprise, as provided in the By-laws. There were sixteen people in that group at the time. Their Board terms would end when their loans had been paid off, or they could resign earlier if they wished.
The December 10th meeting was off to a good start when it was announced that additional pledges had brought the total to $299,300 ($300,000 had been the goal). Bob T's cardboard thermometer, with its red "mercury" column looked like a 4th of July sparkler.
Meantime, Joan and Bob had presented the case for zoning approval to the Jacksonville City Council and planned to submit a petition, as required, at the next Council meeting, signed by members of the Board. In addition, Bob T. and Ken Z. had completed long, involved negotiations with the IRS, which culminated in the club's designation as a "Community Service Corporation". "'The result was federal tax exempt status, a major financial advantage over the years to come.
Eleanore Cadoura, chairing the committee dealing with interior decoration, reported that a choice had been made on tables and chairs. A set of one table and four chairs was to cost $150.00 and people were invited to donate sets in their own names or the names of others to be memorialized by a wall plaque. Twenty sets had already been donated. Many more were to follow. Progress was being made on other important Items.
Sparky Veal also contributed to the club's interior. She had selected the styling of the tables and chairs, saw to it that they were durable as well as attractive, comfortable to use and easy to keep clean. She also recommended a choice of carpeting, which has been easy to live with, and durable under heavy traffic. It was later found that she had purchased a number of table and chair sets herself and most of the memorial plaques, which she organized and keeps up to date. Her enthusiasm for the whole venture was a stimulant to others.
Bob T's January 24th News Bulletin announced the zoning approval by the Jacksonville City Council and the choice of a contractor for the renovation of the building: Ashton Construction, with Jay Milam in charge of the work.
WE HAVE A HOME
The February 17th Board meeting, as had been the case with a number of recent meetings, was held at the Zearfoss home. The major news items were that the closing on the Washburn property had taken place on February 14th, and renovation was to start promptly, with about two months' time estimated to complete the work.
Pledges were being called in and some new ones made, with Joan T. and Joe Collins still in charge. Though they had help from others, they carried the major burden in raising money.
Certain paperwork was needed with respect to government documentation, IRS filing for 1992 and in anticipation of financial transactions for 1993 that required outside professional help, for which the accounting firm of Lucas, Herndon, Hyers and Pennywitt was employed. Gordon Blalock, a club member and highly respected Jacksonville attorney had recommended them. Gordon had also been helpful in preparing closing documents and in regularizing IRS questions concerning the employment of game directors, cleaning people, and others doing work for the club and clarifying such matters as workman's compensation.
Bob T. had more good news regarding water and sewer connections, Since the well and septic fields which were in place on the Washburn tract would be inadequate for the renovated facility. Wal-Mart, whose property adjoined the Washburn tract, had been approached to see whether they might permit us to hook on to their piping, thus saving considerable expenses They had readily agreed to do so at a cost to us of $5,000, which would have been a bargain as compared to new construction. But when they learned that we were to be a non-profit community service group, they agreed to permit the hookup at no cost at all, a friendly, neighborly concession"
When a new sign for the front of the property was discussed, Joe Collins agreed to pay for its painting -- another of Joe's many donations of money and time. Ken Z. reported that a number of people had accepted responsibility for various tasks:
MEMORIAL PLAQUES -- Sparky Veal
GENERAL MAINTENANCE -- Joe Collins
EDUCATION --Bobbie Sue Miller
HOUSE COMMIITEE -- Fazil Dean
POSTERS AND ARTWORK -- Mary Guernsey (who contributed not only her outstanding talents, but adamantly refused any compensation for art materials)
KITCHEN -- Elizabeth Ralphs
TOURNAMENTS -- Ron Wilson
HOSPITALITY -- Frances Long
ATRIUM MAINTENANCE -- Myra Rucker
VENDING --Bob Green
MEMBERSHIP -- Juanita Caroom
PARTNERSHIPS -- Gene Lewis
LANDSCAPING -- Marilyn McCann ( who offered to fund those expenses for a ten-year period or until the promissory notes were paid off).
The renovation work then absorbed attention for a two-month period. Ken Z. put in serious overtime following the progress, conferring with Jay Milam and working on the myriad details that always crop up in construction. There is no doubt that Ken's attention to the task expedited the work and insured that it would be completed on schedule and in a workmanlike fashion
A BUSY WEEK
The first game at the new building was played Monday, April 19, 1993 with Ron directing. On Wednesday, April 21st, Lorraine directed the game she had turned over to JSB as part of her contract, and on Thursday, April 22nd, Mary Jack Johnson directed hers.
An OPEN HOUSE was held on the evening of April 22nd with Mary Jack in charge. It was a huge success, well attended and. well covered by the local media. The FLORIDA TIMES-UNION agreed to run the club's name, address and telephone number under their daily bridge column, which continues today.
The first sectional tournament, chaired by Ron Wilson, followed on April 23-25, with ACBL's "Kojak" and wife "Bud" directing. The six sessions had an average of 40 tables, a gross intake of $6,200 and a net profit of $3,300.
At the April 29th meeting of the Board, the first at the new facility, Ken was able to report that the JSB membership totaled 290. The JACKSONVILLE SCHOOL OF BRIDGE was off and running. Quite fittingly the club's president for the first year was Bob Trowbridge and for second year was Ken Zearfoss.
The foregoing pages provide a rough outline of how JSB came to be. Those intimately involved in the project recognize that a lot of the "sweat and tears" has been skipped over lightly. The fact remains that the duplicate bridge-playing community of Jacksonville owes a great deal to a number of generous people. They deserve the satisfaction for a job well done on a true labor of love.
The story of the JSB has only begun to be told. The history of the first decade of operations should be started soon, before memories fade. Examples of player generosity in 1993 and since abound, both in terms of money donated and time and effort devoted, and they should be included in the club's history. Some of these examples were reported in the FLORIDA BRIDGE NEWS beginning in the June, 1993 issue, where the front cover reads: THE PLAYERS MADE IT HAPPEN IN JACKSONVILLE.
By December of 1998, the club's debt on promissory notes had been reduced to $137,244 from the 1993 debt of approximately $300,000, and every cent of earned interest on the loans had been paid when due. Nine regularly scheduled duplicate games were being played per week, including two I/N (intermediate/novice) games. Sunday Swiss teams were being played about once per month and open tournaments on a regular schedule.
Lorraine (Seward) Petway
Joan and Bob Trowbridge
Retha and Ken Zearfoss