History of the University Club

Four scholar members of the Claremont University Club have written histories of the club over the years. Bernard C. Ewer wrote his “historical sketch” in 1955. Harold A. Bruner wrote another “historical sketch” in 1980. Harold D. Fasnacht wrote an addendum to Bruner’s work in 1986, and Nicholas C. Polos wrote about the decade ending in 1995. In our effort to highlight the club’s evolution up to 2012, we’ve drawn heavily on the writings of these giants, sometimes summarizing, sometimes quoting directly while keeping in mind that brevity is the soul of readability as well as wit.

The Club History Committee

All hands have agreed that the Claremont University Club was born at Pomona College in 1924. There was a gestation period that probably began in about 1919 when a few college faculty members and staff put together an informal group they called the College Club. Some members still used that name well into the ‘30s. Bernard Ewer wrote that early records ranged from sketchy to absent but that “this paucity of recorded fact is relieved to some extent by undocumented recollections obtained from a few early members, and by inferences from concurrent events. The recollections do not wholly agree, and the inferences vary from logical deduction to more or less plausible conjecture.”

George S. Sumner, professor of economics at Pomona College, was the main force bringing about the 1924 reorganization from what Harold Bruner called “a shop-talk group” of college faculty and staff to “a club having a wider constituency and other purposes….” Southern California’s population was booming. Plans for Pomona College to anchor a cluster of colleges had been announced. A broader concept for the club was in order. Twenty-five men made up the new organization. What to call it was a matter of considerable discussion. Ewer noted that “El Rodeo” was considered—“The appellation was acknowledged to have poetic charm, but was regarded as incompatible with academic dignity. Eventually the club adopted the conventional nomenclature of its kind.” Sumner became the first president of the University Club of Claremont.     Click to Visit Photos of Early Claremont and the University Club

Dr. Sumner and Family

The club met for a short time in Mason Hall on the Pomona College campus and then established quarters in the basement of Sumner Hall. Those were the days when many men enjoyed a “home away from home,” and the Sumner digs included a lounge with books and magazines, a dining room and a billiard room containing one billiard table and two pool tables. “In this convenient situation,” Ewer wrote, “the club took firm social root; from the outset it acquired stability and manifested good fellowship not only within itself but in ways appropriate to the life of the community. Membership increased; the lengthening list reached outward into Pomona, La Verne, San Dimas, Upland, Ontario; brought into its congenial fold alumni of and former teachers in many colleges and universities…also a substantial component of non-collegiate members, men whose personality and character, position in the community and participation in public affairs dignified the group.”

Top of PageDuring the Sumner Hall years the question of women being admitted as members first arose. “This weighty problem,” Ewer wrote in his witty style, “was discussed with the gallantry, the penetrating acumen, and the judicial fairness characteristic of the academic masculine mind. The resulting decision was based on broad and sound psychological and sociological principles: In view of the instinctive propensities of womankind to assume domination in domestic affairs the club should not incur the risk of having its quarters become an extension of family homes—a danger obviously magnified by the possibility that the helpmeets would bring collective pressure to bear in their age-long task of civilizing the male.”

Monthly dues of the University Club were $1.50. “An excellent luncheon” cost 45 cents. But club members yearned for a building of their own, and in 1932 rented Story House at Eighth Street and Amherst Avenue for $75 a month. It was a three-story stone and half-timbered building with rooms for lounge and dining room. The club added a billiard room with four tables. That room, Ewer wrote, “was always filled to capacity with players and spectators in the pre-luncheon hour. The resounding yelps of glee and howls of anguish when Professor A or his colleague Dr. B made quite accidentally a brilliant shot, or knocked the leather bottle off the table, still reverberate in memory.” The house included a small dining room where, Bruner wrote, “Escorted lady guests were served…at a surcharge of 10 cents. Here also occasional lunches and dinners were served to small parties. The main dining room was open to men only.”

Bruner recalled an active social life in Story House. Dinners (75 cents) were often held for members and guests in formal dress before concerts at Bridges Auditorium on the colleges’ campus. New Year’s Eve parties were held. There were monthly dinner dances. One notable event was a post-concert supper honoring the evening’s performer, Lily Pons. Membership grew by about a third the first year after the move to Story House, and by 1934 it stood at 120.

But these were the years of the Great Depression, and in the mid-‘30s membership began to drop. It went down to 67, a time, Ewer wrote, when “many clubs floundered until they inevitably crashed on the rocks of insolvency….Ours…struggled along until the combination of diminishing membership, increasing cost of food, need of repairs and other conditions compelled it to seek a less expensive location.” The Claremont Inn owned by Pomona College provided the answer. Used originally for the college commons where meals were served, it was vacated when college dining halls opened and was being used for service club luncheons and occasional banquets of large groups. It had the space for the University Club to continue its activities, and in 1943 the club “moved to and settled cheerfully in its new, unpretentious but comfortable home,” Ewer wrote. “Somewhat later it signed a 10-year lease of the premises.”

Ewer noted that pool and billiards continued to be a major recreational interest of members “in spite of the fact that few could be called skillful and most were downright duffers.” Around 1950 the club was host to Willie Hoppe, probably the most celebrated billiards wizard in America, who delighted the members and guests with his exploits. In 1951 the club even extended the billiard room 15 feet and added another table, making five in all.

The Claremont Inn granted the club exclusive use of the dining room for its Tuesday noon meetings and continuous use of a reading room and lounge and the games room. The inn was the club’s home for the next 26 years. The Depression slump was reversed. Membership grew—163 in ’52, 221 in ’55. Social activities flourished. “Evening parties usually included ladies,” Bruner wrote. “Dancers swirled around the columns in the dining room. Suddenly there might ring out the voices of hymnologist Robert McCutchan, of Percy Johnson and, of course, the barbershop tenor of Ed Boynton. Warner Marshall, New Yorkbanker, would take the piano seat, dancing would stop, and the rest of the evening would be spent in rollicking songfest.”

During the Claremont Inn period, the club introduced the Bulletin (1950). For a time it carried not only announcements of coming programs but summaries of those of the month before. Also during that period the Tuesday programs became more formalized than they had been. “For many years,” Bruner wrote, “no organized program was offered. Travelogues were often presented by members, based on their own experiences. Time was devoted to fellowship, friendly intercourse, college and community interests. Stanley D. Wilson, professor of chemistry, saw possibilities in the presentation of strong speakers on a wide range of subjects. The club happily settled down to a meaty series of 30-minute formal talks or lectures….The program chairmen have always sought to present both sides of every debatable issue and to live up to a long-established policy that the club will take no position on any political or other controversial issue.”

The long, happy relationship with the Claremont Inn ended in 1968 when Pomona College announced that the inn would be closed and demolished. The billiards and pool days were over. The club loaned out the tables for a time and then sold them. There was no longer a lounge where members could relax and read anytime. Some felt the club would not survive. The club moved its meetings to Griswold’s Inn temporarily while other quarters were sought. Various ideas came and went. The club started a building fund with the hope of perhaps constructing a University Club addition to the colleges’ Faculty House. By 1980 the fund had reached nearly $157,000. Then it was learned that the cost of a Faculty House addition would be about double that—and also that the building would not be available to an organization that excluded women.

Top of PageThe recurrent question of admitting women to membership had come up in 1975. After months of discussion it came to a vote: 52 in favor of admitting women, 117 against. The club Bulletin notified members that women were not to be invited as guests except on specified Ladies’ Days. Three years later that edict softened (150 to 129) to allow women as guests at any meeting. (Bruner wrote, “A campaign was conducted by proponents and opponents in a manner that could be called highly political if measured by University Club standards.”)

The “temporary” move to Griswold’s was to last for years. But instead of fading away the club flourished. Membership grew to well over 400 by 1980 and its fiscal health was robust. That brought about a profound shift in the club’s purpose. Harold Fasnacht wrote in his addendum to Bruner’s sketch, “Funds continued to build up…from accumulations of annual membership dues and wisely-invested savings….A decisive change in policy was approved in September 1980 when the club, after long study and recommendation by the board of directors, voted to grant scholarship funds to selected educational institutions for awards to qualified students.” Three years later the club, which had never been incorporated, decided to do so and to seek IRS approval as a public benefit corporation directing gifts toward educational opportunities. Not at all incidentally, the move would save the club some $6,000 a year in federal and state income taxes on investment earnings.

The California secretary of state approved the incorporation July 26, 1983. The IRS classified the club as a non-profit public benefit corporation July 3, 1984. The bylaws were amended to read:

The University Club of Claremont, a non-profit corporation, is an association of men whose purposes are:

1. To support and encourage education in the community.
2. To foster education of the members by providing intellectually stimulating programs.
3. To develop a relationship that will stir intellectual curiosity and foster a spirit of honest inquiry.
4. To promote good relationship between colleges and community.
5. To maintain a regular programs for offering financial assistance to deserving college and university students.

In 1984 historian Harold Fasnacht told the club that because of the “temper of the times, court decisions across the country, relationships with the local colleges, and changing nature of the club’s membership,…the question of women members will probably not lie still.” It didn’t. The next year the club voted again, and again the “no” vote prevailed but by only four votes: 116 to 120. A proposal to admit women was defeated once more in ’87, but clearly change was on its way. It came two years later. In his portion of the club’s history, Nicholas Polos wrote, “The advocates of ‘women’s admission’ forced a final vote on February 27th, 1989. By a margin of 16 votes from a total of more than 300 cast—representing more than 85 percent of the total club membership—the issue was approved….It is worth pointing out that in both 1985 and in the 1987 voting, the board remained neutral and submitted the question without taking any position….In the 1989 vote a majority of the board members who favored the proposal submitted the question ‘with a recommendation for approval.’” By 1994 the directory showed 22 women members. (The 2008-2009 directory lists 38 women members.)

In his history-sketch addendum, Fasnacht wrote of the qualities that make the club great: diversity, quality programs, volunteerism, selflessness of members and finally “fellowship. This is the most-often voiced quality of the club. It is a quality of both mind and spirit. To the extent that members bring their own spirit to meetings, to the golf course, committee sessions, or whatever, the mingling of conversation and laughter and listening are spontaneously converted into a new spirit of fellowship….In the presence of others of one’s own ilk, whether architect, attorney, minister, educator or business executive, there is the sense of belonging.”

In 1986 University Club membership reached 426. That evidently was the peak. A gradual change in American culture began eroding membership in clubs and lodges all over the country. The concept of a home away from home seemed to be fading. Young people weren’t the joiners their parents and grandparents were. Many business and professional people felt they couldn’t spare the time for organizations. Many clubs and lodges shrank and finally folded. The University Club stayed solvent and even increased its philanthropic work, but the membership numbers began a downward course. Polos recorded that in 1994 the club had 309 members. “At this writing, the decrease in membership in our club, by itself, is very formidable,” he wrote. Membership drives occasionally brought in newcomers, but the downward trend continued. The 2008-2009 directory lists 172 members. Attendance at meetings is around 55 to 60 with a spurt now and then when a particularly entertaining afternoon is promised such as the Citrus Singers of Citrus College presenting a Christmas program. The club is still strong, however, and Polos’s closing sentence is still apt:

“The University Club has achieved a position of respect in this community, one that justifies faith in the premise that the club will continue to serve the community and will justify the pride that we have in our past achievements and history.”

Top of PagePrograms and Special Events

Over the years the format for the Tuesday luncheons has become firm. Members begin gathering at about 11:30 a.m., go through the buffet and pick a table to eat lunch. At about 12:30 the president whacks a Chinese gong and begins the program, usually with a joke or two. Before the featured speaker or performer is introduced the fellowship reporter tells of members’ travels, honors, triumphs and ills. Now and then a new member will give a six-minute autobiography. On the last Tuesday of each month all the members with birthdays that month are introduced. At about 12:45 the day’s chairman introduces the speaker. Most speakers talk for 30 or 35 minutes and then invite questions. They usually get lots of them, particularly if the topic is controversial. At 1:30 sharp the president adjourns the meeting.

Speakers and performers are rarely paid, but the quality of presentations year after year is remarkably high. The club has heard professors, business and professional people, travelers, musicians, environmentalists, magicians, preachers, poets, comedians and artists. Subjects have ranged from philosophy to jazz and from the woes of the Middle East to the joys of bird watching. All of these people are solicited by the club’s program committee—each member of the committee is responsible for a month of programs.

Besides the programs at the Tuesday meetings, the club now and then sponsors or cosponsors a rather spectacular program for members and guests and sometimes for the public at large. Some of these are in celebration of club anniversaries. In 1963 Pastor Martin Niemoeller, the great German theologian, addressed the club. In ’76 the club cosponsored a three-meeting symposium featuring Norman Cousins, described as “writer, editor, citizen diplomat, promoter of holistic healing and unflagging optimist.” As part of the observance of the nation’s bicentennial, Cousins spoke on “American Character and Morality: Where Now?” In 1978 Hank Maxwell and his wife Beulah created and produced a musical comedy, “Our Fair Gentlemen,” which was a spoof of the club’s then all-male membership. Two starkly contrasted events marked 1981: Hank and Beulah staged a sequel to “Gentlemen” entitled “UCC at Sea” with about 70 members and wives taking part, and Henry Steele Commager, well-known historian, essayist, reviewer and intellectual giant, addressed the club and its guests during a Festival of Freedom. For the club’s 60th anniversary in 1984, Ernest A. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and former U.S. commissioner of education, was the speaker. The next year the club staged a variety show in Claremont’s Candlelight Pavilion. At the 65th anniversary dinner James Joseph, president of the Council on Foundations in Washington, D.C., and former Claremont Colleges chaplain, spoke. In 1993 Zoya Zarubine, who had been Stalin’s translator at the Yalta Conference, spoke on “Cleansing Ethnic Hatred” at a special evening meeting. Jim Autry, poet and management consultant, addressed the club and answered questions from the audience at a celebration of the club’s 70th anniversary in ’94. An anniversary dinner in 2010 included Dr. Patrick Nunally as keynote speaker and entertainment by the Lindy Sisters. The celebration in 2012 honored all past presidents at a performance of 'ANYTHING GOES' held at the Candlelight theater.

Top of PageA FEW ODDS AND ENDS

In the years since its founding the club has amended and restated its purposes many times. Originally it was an informal “vehicle for pleasant social, recreational activity.” Its purposes at the present writing are to:

Provide a weekly opportunity for its members to gather for lunch in an atmosphere of intellectual curiosity and spirit of honest inquiry.

Encourage the members to be aware of the principal activities, purposes and problems of the educational institutions in our extended community, the issues facing the citizens of the various communities in the Pomona Valley as well as the efforts to improve the situations causing the issues, and to be informed on state, national and world affairs by providing intellectually stimulating programs each week.

Carry out an annual program of providing scholarships to deserving students who will be attending higher education institutions in the Pomona Valley; and providing grants to benevolent non-profit organizations dedicated to serving young persons in the schools in the community beyond what is normally available, and to cultural groups of a volunteer nature who perform for the good of the community.

Engage in free and open discussion of controversial issues; however, no substantial part of the activities of this club shall consist of carrying on propaganda or otherwise attempting to influence legislation, nor shall this club participate in or intervene in any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office or any ballot issue.

The actual date of the club’s beginning is unknown, and anniversary celebrations varied. In 1983 the board declared the first Tuesday of October to be the anniversary date.

Top of PageIn 2000 John Suchocki, then club secretary, created, composed, typed and published a booklet, “Committee and Officer Responsibilities Made Clear,” which continues to be in use. It’s referred to as “The Little Red Instructional Booklet.”

In 1985 the five-member board that had governed the club to that time was increased to nine members and terms of directors became three years instead of two. Three members retire and are replaced each year, providing better continuity than before.

The club masthead depicting scholarly pursuits was created in 1969. Spencer Minnich, the club secretary, wrote to an artist friend in Bombay, Daulat D. Chouhan, who drew it—the only known outsourcing by the University Club.

Archived University Club Programs

2014 Programs

2013 Programs

2012 Programs

2011 Programs

2010 Programs