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100 years and counting

Gwinn Community Center a vital part of the community

September 30, 2010
By RENEE PRUSI Journal Staff Writer

Editor's note: This this the first installment of a new monthly series on this page detailing special senior memories.

GWINN - For 100 years, the Gwinn Clubhouse had played an important role in the lives of Forsyth Township residents.

"It was the center of everything when I was a kid," said 82-year-old Richard "Chic" LaFave, who grew up in Gwinn. "Especially athletics. There was basketball, a pool hall, ping pong, a bowling alley... just about everything.

Article Photos

The 100-year-old Gwinn Clubhouse sign is seen. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)

"I remember the bowling alley. I used to set pins there," he said. "They would throw the ball and it would sound like a cannon."

The Gwinn Clubhouse was constructed in 1910 by what was then Cleveland Cliffs Inc., which was responsible for much of the set up of the community of Gwinn as a model town. The clubhouse was truly a community center.

For 90-year-old Joe Meni, one of the most vivid memories of the clubhouse was its practicality.

Fact Box

"As old as I am, I still remember looking up to the sky for Santa's sleigh."

- GLORIA KOSKI LAFAVE, sharing a memory of the Gwinn Clubhouse

"I would take a shower here every Saturday. You'd come down with your own soap and your own towel," Meni said. "We didn't have showers at home, so this is where you came once a week to take one."

Gloria Koski LaFave, Chic's wife, is another Gwinn native. She grew up on Maple Street and she and Chic were neighbors. The two first started dating when Gloria was 13 and Chic was 15.

"My Dad was the constable in town," said Gloria, who is now 80.

"And I also knew her father was the constable," Chic laughed.

"The clubhouse was the center for all kids. We hung out here," she said. "There was a soda fountain in the drop-in center here. There was a library. We taught the boys to dance here.

"It was a great place to hang out."

The lot behind the building was busy during the warm months.

"It was a great lot in the summertime," Chic said. "There were baseball and football games going on. Whoever happened to be there, that's who played."

One tradition in particular has stayed with Gloria all these years.

"We used to have a bonfire and we roasted potatoes in it just before we went back to school," she said. "That was so much fun."

Tennis courts and an ice rink were part of the complex as well.

"CCI was good to the people in Gwinn," Chic said. "I don't know what we would have done without them. The clubhouse gave us a place to congregate."

The gymnasium in the upper portion of the clubhouse served many purposes.

"The Gwinn High basketball teams played there for many years," Chic said.

"We used to use the gym for a Halloween party every year," Gloria said. "And there were wedding receptions there."

Including Chic and Gloria's in 1952.

At Christmas, the Gwinn Clubhouse really came to life.

"Santa Claus would be here and all the kids would come in," Meni said. "Santa would give everybody a bag of candy. And an orange."

Gloria said the firemen would give out the candy as Santa's helpers.

"As old as I am, I still remember looking up to the sky for Santa's sleigh," she said. "And I remember we would all sing carols. It was lovely."

Madeleine DelBello, 92, smiles when she speaks of her clubhouse memories.

"As a kid, I would come here for the Saturday movies. It was five cents," she said. "If it was a Harold Lloyd picture, then it was a dime. They even had someone playing the piano for awhile.

"And we would walk here from the school for our gym classes," she said. "Then you'd walk back to school for your next class. In the wintertime, it was so cold."

Chic said said much of the credit for how well the center was run in its early days must go to the couple in charge.

"Oscar and Ellen Nordeen ran the place. They lived in the apartment upstairs," he said. "They kept this place immaculate. There were like parents to all of the kids. They were there to help us. We respected this place. We always did."

But the Gwinn Clubhouse is not just happy memories: It is still a vital place. From exercise classes to dessert parties to meetings, the Gwinn Clubhouse is still an important building in the community.

"This is a busy place, just about every day," Gloria said.

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her e-mail address is



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