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Making the Difference : Century Club Has Good Time Giving Away Money

July 06, 1989|DICK WAGNER | Times Staff Writer

Unrestrained by any formal rules of order, the Long Beach Century Club conducts its Tuesday night meetings in a jocular air. The members, mostly middle aged, like to call for drinks, tease the waitress and await the raffle drawing.

"Informal . . . very low-key . . . we give away money to kids," attorney Don Dyer, a past president, had said before a recent meeting at the Park Place Restaurant. He was describing the club, which, amid the fun, works enough to carry out its commitment to help thousands of young Long Beach amateur athletes.

Lynn Shrum, a Special Olympics coach, explained at the meeting how the club helped enable a junior high school student, who soon will have a steel rod inserted in her spine and may have to quit athletics, to compete in a recent Special Olympics track meet. Club donations had been used to buy track uniforms.

"You guys are making a big difference in this little girl's life," Shrum told the members.

Begun in 1957

The Century Club was formed as a nonprofit corporation in 1957 to promote amateur athletics. It was founded by men who met regularly to play cards and talk about sports at the old Apple Valley Inn steakhouse in downtown Long Beach. The idea was to have 100 members each paying annual dues of $100.

Dues have remained the same, but there are close to 150 members now. Among them are lawyers, bankers, businessmen, coaches, police officers, an FBI agent and athletes the club once honored, such as former baseball star Bobby Grich. Only two members are female--tennis great Billie Jean King and Ernie Pollman, a longtime Cal State Long Beach booster.

"Someone once said it's a whole bunch of has-beens honoring a whole bunch of will-be's," Dyer joked.

According to president-elect Keith Cordes, the club raises $30,000 to $40,000 each year. It provides scholarships to CSULB, grants to Long Beach City College and supports and honors champion teams and individuals from junior high schools, high schools and colleges. It also gives $1,000 each year to the Long Beach Marathon.

And the club enables athletes to travel--it helped pay for King's first two trips to Wimbledon. "We've sent them all over the world to make sure they have a chance to compete," Dyer said.

Hall of Fame

An Athlete of the Year is announced at the club's annual Sports Night banquet, which draws more than 700 people. And the club annually adds members to its Hall of Fame, which includes diving's Pat McCormick, baseball's Bob Lemon, football's Gene Washington and legendary umpire Beans Reardon.

A high school athlete is honored each month; the club invites the athlete and his or her coach and parents as dinner guests.

The main fund-raisers--long gone are the days when the club had to ask the City Council for help--are a spring golf tournament and a fall coaching clinic. Last year, Chuck Knox and John Robinson were the guest speakers.

"We have a good time doing what we do," Cordes said. He said meeting nights are "pretty free-wheeling with no Roberts Rules of Order. Most of the agenda is written on envelopes 10 minutes before the meeting starts."

The consensus, though, is that things were a bit wilder in the club's early days.

Al Larson, a retired Long Beach Press-Telegram sportswriter, said the meetings would last from 6 p.m. until 2 a.m. "A lot of the wives never knew the meetings ended at 7," Larson said. "It was always on the minutes that they adjourned at 2 a.m."

John Queen, 76, the oldest member, said the club "has more fun and does more good. I've never seen a kid turned down who came to the club and said he couldn't afford to go to, say, a track meet in New Jersey."

Jeff Severson, Long Beach real estate broker and former pro football player with the St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Redskins, recalled being honored by the club in 1969 when he played at Cal State Long Beach.

"The nicest award you can get is to receive one by local fans and friends," Severson said. "For a young man, that made quite an impression to see guys at the head table like Bob Lemon, John McKay and Johnny Olszewski, who you grew up idolizing. All of a sudden you are meeting someone your parents might have bought a car or insurance from, and it's something to have them come up to you and say, 'Hi, Jeff Severson, you had a great year.' "

Severson also found that the club was a good springboard for getting exposure to the business world.

Criticisms of the club, according to Dyer, are rare. "We give away money, so it's hard to criticize us," he said. "We give away everything we take in."

Objections usually come from people who think the club overlooked someone for the Hall of Fame. "I was critical at one time because USC and UCLA people were at the head table and Long Beach people were not," Dyer said. "That's since been changed. They're all up there now."

Dyer looked over the list of Hall of Fame members and athletes of the year.

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