Saturday, May 25, 2013
AUGUSTA — The 24 men who gathered at Morin’s Shoe Store on Water Street in Augusta on the evening of Sept. 21, 1922, thought long and hard about the name of their new club.
They settled on “Calumet,” which means peace pipe, because it symbolizes the ideals of the French community. It also expressed the Franco-Americans’ desire to live peacefully with their non-French neighbors, in spite of their language and cultural differences.
The founders decided the purpose of Le Club Calumet, as written in its constitution, would be the propagation of the French language and intellectual development, by means of music, literature, education and anything considered beneficial to the interest of Franco-Americans.
In the past 90 years, the club has fostered the community in many ways.
The site has been a meeting place for many Franco-Americans and other groups in the area. Events held there have included weddings, suppers, business meetings, recognition dinners for local athletes, various dances and benefits.
The club has hosted other organizations in the area for Banker’s Night, Fellowship Night and the popular Outstanding Citizen Award Banquet, which recognizes a worthy member of the community who is not of Franco-American decent. The club also has entertained many dignitaries during its history, including Govs. Edmond Muskie, John Reed and Kenneth Curtis, former Red Sox pitcher Bill Monbouquette and then-Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts.
Working alongside the club’s members, the men’s wives formed a group called The ladies of the Calumet, which took part in many of the club’s charitable activities.
One of their first projects was to feed and clothe needy families in the area during the holidays. The Ladies continued to promote the club’s charity work and expanded their activities.
They held an open house during sessions of the state Legislature to entertain legislators and their spouses and held many fundraising activities to buy such things as gifts for children’s Christmas parties and curtains and other furnishings to help maintain the club’s hall.
The dedication of these women, especially in the club’s early years, ensured the success and progress of the Calumet Club.
The women’s group faded, and now women are awarded full membership in the club and are an integral part of its day-to-day operations and success.
The largest expansion of the existing building in the club’s history was completed in 2010. The new meeting room will accommodate up to 56 people and the spacious upstairs ballroom can accommodate groups of 360. The club’s famous cuisine is produced in the newly expanded and modernized kitchen.
The club always has been a charitable organization. Donations and use of its land can be seen at the Calumet Playground and Pool on Northern Avenue and the Little League fields on Old Belgrade Road.
Whether it’s a local student needing money to go to summer camp or a large community fundraiser for such things as the former Augusta General Hospital, the new MaineGeneral Medical Center and the Alfond Cancer Center, the club and its membership are always ready to participate with contributing their time and resources.
The club’s own Calumet Education Foundation was created in the 1960s and has helped the children of many club members and nonmembers further their education after high school through grants and scholarships.
The foundation was started with “birthday dollars,” a tradition of members donating $1 on their birthday. A portion of all members’ yearly dues still goes to the Education Foundation, which now has more than $1 million in its coffers.
In the early days, the French showed their love and talent for music through annual minstrel shows and special events. Most of these events were held first at City Hall and continued in the new facility on West River Road.
The community has seen performances by the original Platters and Elvis and Shania Twain impersonators, as well as many local performers. The club recently presented the original members of the 1970s band Three Dog Night at the Little League field on Old Belgrade Road.
The outdoor venue also is the site of the club’s “Le Festival de la Bastille.” The festival was created in 1984, from the vision of a few club members and the hard work and dedication of many member volunteers.
This celebration of family, food, fun and music has been a great way for the club to share with the community its Franco-American heritage and the fun-loving manner of the French.
Patrick Boucher is a past president of Le Club Calumet.
A special celebration of the Calumet Club’s 90th anniversary will be held Sept. 28 and 29.
The public is invited to a Las Vegas-style weekend, beginning with a Casino Night, with fun and food, at 7 p.m. Friday.
The festivities will culminated with entertainment from a group called the Sands Trio on Saturday. These Rat Pack impersonators feature the music of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. Hors d’oeuvres and champagne will be placed on every table for attendees to enjoy.