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CURLING IN STEVENS POINT

A brief history of the Stevens Point Curling Club

by David Garber, November 4, 2013

In 1956, Howard Woodside and Ed Stratton scribed and flooded an outdoor sheet of curling ice in Goerke Park, on what is now tennis court #1 across from the old armory and adjacent to the Copps Pool. Woodside and Stratton were from Portage and Waupaca, respectively, both curling towns since the mid-1800s. The stones were stored on site in an old gray wooden box of the type used by the city to store, of all things, sand for winter use on streets. I was seven in 1956, grew up two blocks from Goerke, and, with other little boys ranging around back then, noted the odd ice sheet with mild curiosity. I had no inkling then of how curling would later impact my life.

Conditions must have been tough for those early curlers, who founded the Stevens Point Curling Club in 1956. By 1959, Woodside had had enough of outdoor ice. With his outsized personality and powers of persuasion, he lured about 50 men to commit to curling, and to co-sign a bank loan to build a Spartan two-sheet facility at the present site, for about $20,000.00. The original warm room was two-sheets wide and just 15 feet deep—enough for two small bathrooms, two rows of pews, and a pay phone. Social events and after-game sociality were held across the lot at the old Country Club clubhouse. The furnace and refrigeration rooms were where they are today. The compressor used salt brine, the brine tank later removed in favor of glycol. There was no cooling tower outside—that function was part of the indoor refrigeration system, which had been bought used in 1959 and is still in service today except for the condenser. The same building plan was also used by the Green Bay, Tri-City and Lakeshore (now defunct) Curling Clubs.

Woodside was an attorney and a member of the Stevens Point Country Club. He persuaded that board of directors to conclude a 99-year lease on the curling club land at one dollar per year. In the late 1980s, the curling club paid off the balance of that lease, fifty-some dollars. My dad Ben and Walt Okray, Tom Okray’s dad, were two of the charter members. A wooden plaque listing the charter members and original corporate supporters was lost during the 1989 remodeling. My dad started me curling in 1961, including duty as “hose man” during flooding. Curling was a WIAA letter sport in Wisconsin from 1959-1973—I played for PJ Jacobs (then the senior high!).

The warm room was doubled in size in the late 1970s, still two sheets wide but now 30 feet deep, with a major donation from “Shorty” Schierl. There was room now for two tables to sit around after games. The bathrooms were bigger and the club now boasted its own kitchen. It was still quite crowded during ‘spiels.

The club was able to retire its mortgage in the 1980s when about 15 members provided interest-free loans to pay off the mortgage. The club then made annual principle payments to these members, instead of interest payments. Within about five years, all debt was retired.

In the summer of 1987 the warm rooms were extended north about 40 feet, doubling again, aided again by a major donation from the Schierl family, this time in honor of Shorty’s son, Butch. The warm rooms were now four sheets wide and included a substantial locker room. All labor except the foundation and slab was provided by member volunteers, including setting theroof trusses, roofing, and installation of a long, large “I” beam that allowed expansion without the need for pillars. Pete Leahy did the wiring and acted as project foreman. The lockers were donated. Theywere refurbished and painted by Jim Gies. Half dozen members took a week or more of vacation to work on the project, total cost was around $15,000.

A 25th SPCC Anniversary Booklet was written in the mid-1980s, with winners of every club league and bonspiel event from 1960-1984, as well as photos of then-key members. In the mid-sixties, before the advent of big-time snowmobiling and ice hockey, the club had about 150 male members and perhaps 50 women. Key member volunteers like Ralph Walters and John Kruger (now Ian Journeaux) maintained the machinery for these 50 years plus. Other key volunteers like Woodside, Ben and David Garber, Bob and Scott McDonald, and Jack Edgerton and others “made good ice” each year. In addition to maintaining the machinery and the ice, as current members know, many volunteers perform many hours of service on many key tasks each year to ensure successful club operations.

Bonspiels and leagues sociality: in the 1960s, the Whiting Hotel enjoyed its last decade as the hub of social events in Stevens Point. The curling club booked its bonspiel guests into the Whiting. Old timers tell a story of a team at Point’s Mixed Bunny Spiel whose skip did not allow his wife out of the room without him. He locked her in one Saturday morn when he went to breakfast. Shortly, club members passed the room serving cocktails from the Bloody Mary cart. Since the trapped wife desired an eye opener, a drink was promptly prepared and passed through the old-style transom window over the door. The telling of this story amused curlers for years afterward. I first heard it from Bob Williams, who I believe, was “Captain of the Cart” that year.

My earliest memories of curling include sitting around the after-game table, as a young teen, raptly listening to the men as they enjoyed their libations and talked smart. Since there were lawyers, bankers, plumbers, laborers, corporate executives, small business owners and their employees, I benefitted from observing a pretty complete cross-section of Stevens Point during the leagues, and for that matter, men from many other curling clubs whose members attended our bonspiels. It was a highlight to compete against teams like the Taylors from Waupaca, a father and three sons, with my dad and brother and honorary family team mates like Frank Bauer and Bob Litzau.

 

Competitors: The Stevens Point Curling Club has had notable competitors over the years. Woodside led rinks of men over age 55 to two titles at the National Senior Bonspiel (1979, 1985); Ian Journeaux led a senior rink (over 50) to the 2012 USCA Senior National Championship; Dave Violette, won the 1998 USCA National Men’s Championship as a member of the Pustovar rink; other Point curlers have won numerous bonspiels and advanced in playdowns through district to state levels. Tom Okray and his team won a Wisconsin State Bonspiel in the late 1980s. From 1985, the club hosted a cashspiel which was a top competitive event in the Midwest through the mid-1990s. Howard Woodside, acknowledged as the club’s Founder, claimed to be world standing broad jump champion. At one time, between games, he leapt over 10 feet. He was also world champion in the game, Doko Iki Noh. To find out more about this game, ask Tom Okray at the club.

Lastly, this writer represented our club and the USCA on the 2001 Scotland Tour, a team of 20 U.S. men, who returned home, victorious, with the Herries-Maxwell Trophy, which for a few weeks in 2002 was proudly displayed at the club. The Stevens Point Curling Club proudly hosted the Scots during their 2007 USA Tour.