Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Fraim's Boys Club - The Boys Club of Wilmington

Growing up in Canby Park was awesome. Aside from the park and woods, we were right across the street from the Boy's Club. It was official the Clarence Fraim Boy's Club. Fraim was a dairy man who left some sum of money to the club. Fraim's was built in the late 1960s and was like new when I started going at the age of six. It had a woodshop, art room, games rooms, a dark room, large gym, small gym, indoor pool, and a "radio station" that played music throughout the club.

I learned so much there at the club. Let me start with the wood shop. It was well equipped and the story is that much of the equipment was donated by the DuPont Company. The man in charge was named Chet. He was probably retired from some other job. He knew his stuff and had a whole progression of projects. We started with a small simple project and as completed each one we learned to use all of the various tools. It did not take long for me to learn everything in the shop. I absolutely loved the wood shop. Later Chet retired and Mr. Zawicki took over. He did not have the structure as rigid ad Chet and it was more of a place to hang out and chat with less emphasis on learning all of the tools. The stuff I learned there combined with the various skills I picked up fooling around with my model trains really laid the foundation for me to be able to do most anything. Mr. Zawicki had a daughter called Norma that I liked and used to talk to all the time.

We had a radio station that played music through the speakers around the club. The man who ran it was called Ziggy. Ziggy had long hair and was sort of a hippie. He must have had some sort of experience with this sort of thing. We had two turntables and microphones and sat at a broadcasting dest that felt like we were on the air to the world. We even had a light up "on the air" sign. We played all kids of music and would read news from the paper. I remember once reading some bit of news and saying "it is quarter past the hour and I don't know what the hour is." The station call sign was WFBC for Fraim's Boys Club. It was a great experience.

We also had a darkroom that was another fun place. Taking pictures was fun but developing and printing pictures seemed like doing magic. Of course it was all in black and white. I learned all of the chemistry and soon became proficient in the various steps. At various times in my life I wanted to be a photographer but there was always too many other things to do. The guy who ran the photo club was named Roger Wormer. He was a strange one. He would sneak cigarettes in the darkroom because it had a ventilation system and he could. The kids all thought has was pretty cool. There were two other kids who came to the dark room a lot. David Ortiz who later became a car salesman and a boy named Ralph that I can't remember his last name. I was able to do more photography in middle school and high school and then built my own darkroom that I played with on and off until the early 2000s when digital just took over to the point that I gave it up.

The club also had an art room that was run by a woman named Mrs. Green. She ran it pretty well like Chet did the woodshop. Instead of a progression of independent projects, Mrs. Green used to have dedicated times for the various types of art. Some times were set aside for ceramics, drawing, painting, and other crafty things like making gymp keychains. I liked the art room but not nearly as much as the wood shop or dark room.

Next was the games room. There were full-size pool tables, bumper pool, ping pong, chess, checkers, and shuffleboard. I learned all of these games and loved planing all of them. I found a pool cue at the thrift store and it had a case and came apart into two pieces. We would have to sit and three chairs and play winners. After a game finished the loser left and the 1st seat got tot play, the second and third seats each moved over and the third seat became open. Each pool table had these three seats and there were three games rooms for different age groups. Each room had two pool tables and a bumper pool table plus one or two ping pong tables. When I got to play I would unzip my case and pull out the cue stick and screw the two halves together. I felt like Minnesota Fats getting ready to play for the big money. I also had my own ping pong paddle which was nothing special, it was exactly the same as the ones in the game rom but it was mine. I also learned chess which was the game I liked the most. Chess stuck with my my entire life and I became the chess teacher at Delcastle shortly after I started teaching. The man who ran the games room was Jim Logollo, he was friend with my dad and was an all around great guy. He knew kids and how to entertain us, keep us in line, and teach us life lessons at the same time. He ended up becoming the manager of the entire club later on. I used him as a reference when I first entered the workforce.

There was also a TV room in the back of the games rooms and sometimes we would just hang out and watch cartoons, wrestling, roller derby, or sports. This was before VCRs and DVDs so we could only watch whatever was on. Phillies games were always big and the TV room often was packed if the Phillies were on.

The club also had a library that was run by Mr. McLain. It was not nearly as fun as the wood shop or darkroom but I did spend some time there. You could get help with homework and there were things like writing contests and story time. There were also board games in the library where Mr. McLain could keep and eye on them so all of the pieces would not get lost.

The large gym was scheduled for different activities and different sports at various times. There were things like mini-basketball league where we made up teams and played each other on a weekly basis. Mini-basketball used lower backboards and nets that were hung on the full-sized ones. There was also flag football, floor hockey, dodgeball, and kickball. There were also times when there was open gym and we would play pickup games of basketball. The gym also had a full-sized trampoline in the side room. This was one of the coolest things in the world. We would bounce so high, do summersaults, and tricks. It did not last long because of insurance issues but it was amazing while it laster. The man who ran the gym was John French. Frenchy, was we called him, was awesome. He was the nicest guy and was so good with us kids. He never made anyone feel bad about not doing a good job, we all get like champions with Frenchy.

The small gym was used for special things like Judo lessons and obstacle course contests. I took judo lessons and really like that too. The judo instructor was a man named Stan Green, he was a Wilmington policeman. He ran a tight class and emphasized discipline. We went to several tournaments including one at Andrews Air Force Base. I never really got good at Judo but it was a good experience. One time as a teen when I was into model trains I brought over a bunch of trains and set them up for the kids there in the small gym.

The club had a wonderful indoor pool. It had a deep end with a low and high dive. They had swimming lessons and you kept progressing as you learned more. As you progressed you earned different cards based upon the level. The lowest was tadpole, then minnow, guppy, shark, and swordfish. I might have missed one or two. I went through the entire progression and this funneled you into the swim team which was called the Delaware Dolphins. You could also take junior lifeguard classes which I did as well. Each level had you doing more difficult things. One of the top ones including jumping in with jeans and a sweatshirt and taking them off filling them with air and making them into flotation. There was also the survival float and treading water for 30 minute or maybe an hour in the deep end while they taught lower level kids in the shallow end. The pool was run by Ms. Marilyn. I don't really have much to say about her personally because of the nature of the pool we didn't really interact like with the other adults in the club.

The club also had a science room that didn't last too long into the 1970s. I remember cages and pens for small animals that we could help care for during certain times. It was interesting but it was not open a lot and was phased out.

The outside areas were used in the summer for whiffle ball, kick ball, and tennis. Once the warm weather came I did not really spend much time at the club because the woods and railroad tracks where way more fun. It was a great big world and I wanted to take it all in.

My time at the Boys Club was just amazing. I learned so much and did so much. It really forged a big part of who I became. The folks who worked there each taught me in such a way that I didn't even know that lessons were taking place. In adulthood I started making annual donations to the Boys Club through the United Way. I have given thousands of dollars over the years. When I drive by I always remember my times there and look back on those days as some of the best of my childhood.


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