Bill Lynch: Roots of Boys & Girls Club run deep
Michael Irvine, director of resource development for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley, asked me recently if I had any old Boys and Girls Club photos left in my files, particularly for the years before 2000.
I gave all that I had to the club many years ago, but I told him I’d ask Bill Fernandez to ask his mother, Helen, if she had any old club photos.
They’re still looking, but Helen, who is by the far the oldest living founder of our local Boys and Girls Club, did find some old newspaper clippings from April of 1957 which tell the story of the club’s earliest roots here in the Valley.
Our Boys and Girls Club correctly declares its founding as 1962, the year that a group of prominent Sonomans, including Helen Fernandez, formed a board of directors for what was to be called then the “Valley of the Moon Boys Club.”
Other members of that first board included Dr. C.B. Andrews, Jerry Casson, Henri Maysonnave, George Marlowe and Judge A.R. Grinstead. If most of those names sound familiar, it’s because of Andrews Hall, Jerry Casson Vintage House, the Maysonnave House and Grinstead Amphitheatre. Those early founders were involved in many worthy local causes.
The Valley of the Moon Boys Club’s first home was the Sonoma Community Center.
But even before the local group formed a board and got a charter from the national organization, Helen and her husband, Barney, had already introduced the idea of a boys club to Sonoma Valley in 1957.
They were involved with the San Francisco’s Boys Club and helped it establish a summer camp at the top of Mountain Avenue in Boyes Hot Springs. Formerly the home of Judge and Mrs. William P. Downey, their Cragmont Ranch became a camp for groups of boys from the city who came up for a week at a time throughout the summer starting in June of 1957.
Facilities included a large dormitory and eventually a swimming pool.
Barney and Helen Fernandez, who had moved to Sonoma Valley, became the caretakers of that scenic property.
Speaking of the benefits of a Boys Club camp in Sonoma, Harold Meyer, executive director of the San Francisco Club, said, “These are good lads from good San Francisco families… city kids who we are giving a chance to learn about the country and the gifts of nature. Some of them have never seen a cow or watched a chicken lay an egg. This spot in the Valley of the Moon will be ideal for them.”
By the spring of 1958, the San Francisco Club had authorized more improvements for the camp in Sonoma Valley, including a 30-by-50 foot swimming pool.
While the San Francisco Boys Club summer camp project was eventually moved to a location closer to the city, the idea of a club for boys here had gotten the stimulus it needed from camp, and from Barney and Helen Fernandez, who had invested so much of the time developing the club camp.
Helen opened the Sweet Tooth candy and ice cream shop on West Napa Street directly across from the Index-Tribune. Very soon, she knew everyone in town and was actively lobbying for the establishment of a boys club here.
As mentioned above, she was very persuasive and by 1962 her dream of a club in the Valley of the Moon became a reality. For the next 30 years, Helen was actively involved with the club as it grew, changed locations, changed its name to Boys and Girls Club and added more programs. She was the founder of the first Sweetheart Auction event to raise money for the club. And was a leader among the successful fundraisers in the Valley-wide effort to build the new club in Maxwell Park.
I’m glad she found those old Index-Tribune clippings from 1957-58. They remind me that many things we take for granted in our community started long ago when just one or two people followed a dream.
Note: Michael Irvine would like anyone who has old photos of the local boys and girls club, particularly from years prior to 2000, to contact him, so that he can make copies. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.