Since 1989, Dennis Ward has been an active member of the St James City Civic Association. He has held every office and has been the Treasurer since 2004.
He is head of the building and grounds committee and has served in that capacity for many years laboring along side hardworking people who love to volunteer. During this period he has made many close friends.
Even though he didn't have a hand at building each annex, he has always been interested in its history. He recalled how the building was added onto four times.
"I called the Lee County Permit Department to find out the dates of each annex, but their records don't go back before 1986," he said.
He remembers when the floors didn't always match when a section was added. Because the floor sloped down in the bingo section, it was eventually leveled and retiled.
When the asphalt roof needed replacing, he went online and discovered aluminum shingles that could go over the existing roof. The labor was all volunteer. Ward and the men worked the month of January, 2003, from 8-11 each morning.
"I remember how my wife, Ruth, and Rose Dekker would both get on the roof and bring piles of shingles to the men," he said. "In order to get a permit we paid a licensed contractor to order the materials in his name. When we asked for an inspection, I was standing on top of the roof and I saw the inspector driving down 4th Ave. He just slowed down, took a look at the roof and never got out of his car. He approved it. I remember Frank Rafferty putting on a steak dinner for all of the volunteers after the inspection."
According to Ward, Frank Rafferty was the person responsible for arranging LCEC to install the street lights in front of the building. Also, he introduced "snack night" at bingo.
"He loved to shop food and charged $2 for a simple meal and could still make a profit," he said. "His wife, Jean, was great with fund raising and could sell refrigerators to an Eskimo."
Ward recounted the tragic story of Jean, how she died as a result from a fall in the bathroom. Sadly, her husband, Frank died six months later.
On a more cheerful note, he remembers Jean Rafferty mostly for organizing amateur shows for adults and kids at the Civic Association.
"I remember George Grossellfinger, a teacher from Long Island and a fishing guide, who really had talent. He was a composer, sang and played the banjo."
These were some great times.
Another good friend was Charlie Rich who in 1996-98, organized dances on Saturday nights to get the teenagers involved. When Charlie and his wife Mary moved back up north after being members of the SJCCA for 20 years, Ward remembers how Charlie just cried because they had to leave Pine Island.
It was Charlie and Don Knoll who built the wooden tables that were utilized for many years. Ward recalled how Boots Kataherny put them to good use.
"She bought day-old bread and dried it on the tables," he said. "She would place paper cups under the legs and fill the cups with water to keep the ants from the table. Women volunteers would get their dry bread and bring it back as dressing. Boots would then mix it all together and add her secret spices. She was a wonderful cook. She kept the spice formula to herself and would turn in a receipt for $3.54 for spices. In those days we were fixing 22 turkeys a year. Ruth and I did run the Christmas dinners for several years and worked at breakfasts. Ruth and Rose Dekker were the egg crackers."
Ward recalls Tom Dekker, from Michigan, when he was in charge of maintenance.
"He was an excellent contractor and highly skilled," he said. "He built the small countertop in the kitchen and handled the venting over the stove." Together, Dekker and Ward shingled the sheds with the leftover aluminum from the roofing project. Ward assisted Wayne Harmes who laid the ceramic tile in the kitchen. The newest purchase will be a new stove that he has ordered.
Ward remembers when railroad ties were added to the Adam's Mound, where the septic system is, because the neighborhood kids thought it was a great place to ride their bikes up and down the bank. It worked.
An avid bridge player, Ward played Friday night bridge for years and has run the Tuesday duplicate bridge for the past 10 or 12 years. He recalls in 1996, when Mary Thomas, a bridge player, told Tony George and him that because everyone is "getting old" that they needed to be on the board. Ward was made head of maintenance that October and he and George were officially elected in December.
Politics and changes happen with any organization. One year, Ward recalled how Boots Kataherny became president by default.
"She just took over because the president wasn't calling meetings and performing as he should," Ward said. He then thought it should be her name on the brass plate recognizing presidents and not the existing president. Not everyone agreed with Ward, but Kataherny's name is on a brass plate.