By Steve Linenfelser
Question: If you woke up to a fire in middle of the night and could only take one material thing out of the house, what would it be?
The large screen TV?
Your favorite X-Box game, or golf clubs?
Insurance could replace all those things, and being sentimental, I would take my photo album, because you CAN’T replace the pictures.
This is what happened when the Brooklyn Sportsman Club burned down last summer. Much history was lost. I approached past and present members to see if I could get some pictures of the early days of the club, but alas, the pictures that were in the club burned up in the fire. A wooden gavel was one thing that actually survived the inferno, but pretty much everything else went up in smoke.
I had a chance to sit down with some club members to discuss the history of the organization. Nick Schultz, president of the club, and my longtime neighbors Bob Jensen (a past president) and Mike Wolf, as well as Linda Weatherwax and my cousin Bob Linenfelser were some of the people that I spoke with.
Bob Jenson and Nick Schultz
Jensen remembers when the “club” was just a cow pasture. “There were about 15 members originally and dues were very reasonable, about $15. We limited ourselves in the early days of the club to 65 members.”
There are now 350 members, and they are accepting new members. First year dues are $80, $55 a year thereafter.
“That is very reasonable, compare that to Lenawee County’s Sportsman Club dues, which are $144,” said Schultz.
Bob Donahue donated 25 acres back in 1968 to get the club started. There are now 44 acres, with 18 acres donated just a couple of years ago. It was originally called The Heart of The Lakes Club, then later became Brooklyn Sportsmans Club. The founding members literally built the club.
“One of my fondest memories was helping Dale Reese lay down blocks and mortar,” said Jensen. “Carl Linenfelser would take money out of his own pocket for the club, and people would all pitch in for something,” said Schultz. Mike Wolf said “One of my fondest memories was selling MIS programs. Get your program here!”
Weatherwax said “There were beef roasts, we would sell raffle tickets, and buy a one-day beer license for $25 to raise money.” Later, there were snowmobile races on Vineyard Lake, and Linda pointed out to me something that I had almost forgotten: penny scrambles. They would take a bunch of pennies and bury them in the sand. The kids would run over and dig ’em up.
It was fun. It was simpler times. Today, kids are content to play video games, but being outside was something the club still promotes.
I took my hunter safety course there. I remember Vince Honeywell, one of the original members, taught my class. Believe it or not, I remember the lessons he taught us kids.
One in particular was using the right size ammo for your shotgun. “The shell can slide down the barrel and when another shell hits it, you have a disaster, “Vince explained. He showed us a shotgun with the end of it blown off. It scared us kids, and years later I shared that lesson with a neighbor boy who was about to add the wrong ammo to his shotgun.
The club continues to teach hunter safety to this day, and from its humble beginnings it has grown. I remember a lot of the regulars: My dad Bernie, Jack Elliott, John Golas, Norman Weatherwax, my uncle Al Linenfelser, and cousin Bob Linenfelser.
“The early days it was a place to shoot. We would have fox hunts, clay shooting, and even family reunions,” said Bob. I remember spending time with all my cousins, aunts, and uncles. We ate delicious grilled food, played horseshoes and enjoyed not only the outdoors, but each other.
Who could forget the annual game dinners?
“Everything on the table, we pretty much shot,” said Bob. I remember my uncle Al cooking a lot of the dishes. Moose, elk (my favorite), deer, raccoon, duck, geese, and even listed on the menu was “marsh rabbit.”
“What was that,” I remember pondering in my head. My dad whispered in my ear “It’s muskrat.”
Apparently, anything with the word “rat” in it was not too appetizing. But I enjoyed everything. It was new, different, and exciting. Plus, it helped raise money for the club.
It is good to know that while the fire burned the building, the club will only grow stronger, teaching new generations the value of being outside, the fun of safe shooting, and a little bit about living off the land.
There are now 17 pistol ranges, a rifle range, and places to shoot clay pigeons. There are certified instructors available to teach anything from a novice course to Army Rangers/Special Forces courses. The club even built a replica of three rooms where Osama bin Laden was killed and where you shoot simulated targets.
Many of the club’s members have earned national awards in shooting including an Olympic gold medal by Rachael Heiden, taught by the late Jack Hill. The instructors there are top notch.
The certified instructors at the club teach concealed pistol license classes, defensive pistol practice, international defensive pistol shooting, and even bowling-pin shoots.
Yep. They line up 9 bowling pins and you take 10 shots with a gun to shoot them down. “It is a lot of fun,” said Schultz.
The club today has weddings, baby showers, birthday parties and more on the grounds. It has grown from a place where a few guys had a place to shoot to what it is today. There are activities at least a couple days of the week for the scouts. They build wood duck and bat houses, and the kids cook at certain events, with the proceeds going to the Boy and Girl Scouts.
Shultz took me on a grand tour of the facilities after my interview, and noted that the club stresses safety first.
“We are one shot away from being done,” said Schultz. As we were wrapping things up. I noticed a new freshly-built wooden table and a gas grill.
“That table was built in the last two days,” Schultz said. They apparently are not wasting time to get things going.
After all, members may soon be enjoying freshly grilled hot dogs, hamburgers, venison, and, perhaps, marsh rabbit.
Editor’s note: plans are in place for a new clubhouse after last summer’s fire. Members hope the shell will be constructed before the snow flies so they can work on the inside over the winter.