'It was a home away from home for me'

'It was a home away from home for me'

When it was created in 1968, it was the Don Moyer Boys Club, with a small gym where there used to be a church on Champaign's Park Street. The church benches were the first to go. The club grew, and now the group called the Don Moyer Boys & Girls Club is 46 percent female.

Director and CEO SAM BANKS said the new Martens Community Center at Human Kinetics Park will house the new Boys and Girls Club location for elementary programs, set to open in 2019 — but the original building will live on as the teen center.

The original class will meet Aug. 9-11 to celebrate its 50th year, and recently held a gathering of about 20 members to get the ball rolling. The Class of 1968's DAVID COBBS even brought his original membership card. Many of the alumni have gone on to be fixtures of the community, like WILLIAM PATTERSON, a University of Illinois faculty member, and JOE STOVALL, who eventually became the board president.

Staff writer Paul Wood talked to five members of the Class of 1968.

Peter McFarland

In the class of '68, I was 12. We needed something like that, a club — instead of playing in our backyards or on the street. "Inside" was essential for our neighborhood. We played pool, pingpong, games we'd never played before. That's where I learned to play just about everything. There was a library and radio area with records. I learned a lot of things, made friends with a lot of folks. I couldn't wait to get out of school and go there. In the summertime, I learned to swim. The club taught me about responsibility and work ethic, along with my father and mother teaching me. Every summer, we'd go to a pro baseball game, or even go to the Cubs and Cards and the White Sox, mostly Cardinals. No, I'm not a Cardinals fan; I'm a Cubs fan.

Tony McNeal

In 68, I was 12. I lived maybe four blocks from the club. We played basketball, and there were pool tables, just a little gathering place for the guys. I'm still friends with all of them. I probably went until maybe 16 or 17, then I started high school basketball at Central; I played guard for Lee Cabutti. It had been a church; I don't even remember the name of the church. Some benches were still there; we had to clean them out. I think on the north end of room there was a balcony. We had enough room for foosball. Then they gave us IDs by age bracket. (The late) Dave Lawrence was the big wheel behind getting that club together. One of my kids went there for a while. When we started, there were maybe 10 or 15 little guys hanging around there. Rick, my older brother, was also an original member.

Clyde Wicks

We were kids, and it was just opening, so we decided to join. I liked interacting with the other kids and the adults who supervised us at a time. Dave Lawrence and Walter Jackson were great. It was kind of cramped to play basketball; I wasn't one of the better players. Pingpong, pool. They didn't offer homework classes at that time. We played a lot of games. They did have a photography class. I learned how to get along with other people and respect for adults — I worked at Urbana Middle School for 20 years as Student Relationship Supervisor.

Gary Smith

We were the first to join, for the relaxation, not to go into other directions. I was waiting for it to open; I was in another group across the street at the National Guard Armory. When (the late) Dave Lawrence opened it, I was the fourth in the door. I was 13 or 14. At both places, we started learning how to take responsibility and how to carry ourselves. It made all of us better people. Walter Jackson was a real motivator; he made us understand and take on more of a leadership role. It was more than just basketball. We had arts and crafts, and we learned about other people. They took us to Illini football and basketball games, and they even taught us how to play hockey. We went to other places to play hockey. Imagine how my life would have turned if I hadn't joined up, to tell you the truth.

Danny Douglas

It was 1968, and I remember, as an 8-year-old, there was a lot going on. Assassinations, riots, local unrest. My foster mother had signed me up to go to the club, open after school hours, and it really provided me a place to go where I was safe and there were tons of productive things to do there. It was an incredible place for me, so many staff provided just a good place for me as a kid. I didn't have to worry — it was a home away from home for me. My mother didn't have to worry about me. To this day, after 50 years, we're still friends, and I still live in Champaign. I'm really honored that I was a part of that.

Sections (1):Living