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updated: 5/30/2011 11:14 AM

Baker Community Center still vital to St. Charles

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  • Baker Community Center administrative assistant Carol Glemza and board of directors President John Collins review notes before the annual board meeting May 19.

       Baker Community Center administrative assistant Carol Glemza and board of directors President John Collins review notes before the annual board meeting May 19.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Ray Ochromowicz, new director of parks and recreation for the St. Charles Park District, talks at the annual board of directors meeting for the Baker Community Center May 19.

       Ray Ochromowicz, new director of parks and recreation for the St. Charles Park District, talks at the annual board of directors meeting for the Baker Community Center May 19.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Barbara Anderson and Melvin Peterson chat while waiting in line for cake and ice cream at the Baker Community Center annual board of directors meeting May 19. Anderson has been on the board for 55 years and Peterson for 68 years.

       Barbara Anderson and Melvin Peterson chat while waiting in line for cake and ice cream at the Baker Community Center annual board of directors meeting May 19. Anderson has been on the board for 55 years and Peterson for 68 years.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • The Baker Community Center at 101 S. Second St. in St. Charles.

       The Baker Community Center at 101 S. Second St. in St. Charles.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • The STC Underground is gathering spot for teens in the basement of the Baker Community Center.

       The STC Underground is gathering spot for teens in the basement of the Baker Community Center.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • The Baker Community Center's annual board of directors meeting on May 19.

       The Baker Community Center's annual board of directors meeting on May 19.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

 
 

What other board meeting opens with obligatory cake and ice cream before one report is read or one motion approved?

What other board meets only once a year, and then lets its committees take care of important matters?

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What other board has presidents who can be in charge for as long as they would like? And board members who have served for nearly 70 years?

Those who have worked at one time or another during the past 85 years to keep one of St. Charles' vital community buildings in shape to serve youths and adults would know the answer to those questions.

It's the Baker Community Center board, a volunteer group of St. Charles icons and business owners that represents the private Baker Community Center foundation.

It meets annually in the center that Col. Edward Baker built as a community recreation site in 1926. On May 19, cake and ice cream was the order of the day when the board celebrated the 85th anniversary of the building at 101 S. Second St.

"The building pretty much serves the same purpose and operates in the same manner as Col. Baker envisioned it back in 1926," said Carol Glemza, who has worked for the center and with the St. Charles Park District for 68 years.

The importance of the relationship between the park district and the center is illustrated by having someone as knowledgeable about the community and the center as Glemza helping operate it as an administrative assistant.

"The park district moved its offices into the building probably in the mid-1960s and took over the operation of the building," Glemza said.

It has become a perfect partnership for keeping the center a viable option for park district classes, community events, service club events, fundraisers and parties. It also houses the park district's STC Underground teen center in the basement, an area that has its own history of serving St. Charles youths decades ago with a swimming pool and bowling alley.

As the park district's new director of parks and recreation, Ray Ochromowicz also serves as the Baker Community Center manager.

"The park district leases and manages the building for the center board and foundation," Ochromowicz said. "In exchange, the park district has its administrative offices here rent free. Any money from rental or use of the building goes into the foundation."

With the building being 85 years old, much of that money is used for building maintenance -- a topic that can dominate the annual meetings when the board is dealing with an annual budget hovering around $80,000.

Melvin Peterson, a 90-year-old lifetime resident of St. Charles and a member on the board for 68 years, tells board members that "any time you touch this building, it is like touching the Rock of Gibraltar" because of its thick, reinforced foundation and walls.

Despite that, there are the usual issues of broken concrete steps, leaks and general maintenance, in addition to big-ticket items like a new roof three years ago -- or the hope for installing an elevator.

"I don't take the hammer to too many projects any more," said Peterson of his role as the buildings committee chairman, even though Col. Baker originally persuaded him to be on the board because of his handyman skills as a farmer and blacksmith.

"I help keep an eye on the building, then we report what needs to be done, then we bid out the work or see if park district staff can handle it," said Peterson, who did replace the iron gates on the building property in 1993.

John Collins has been president of the board for the past eight years, and attorney Len Seraphin had that role for the prior 25 years.

Collins feels he will be president for as long as the board would like him to serve.

"My family has a lot of history with this building, with the main auditorium, Collins Auditorium, named for my father, James H. Collins," he said.

Other board members include former Mayor Fred Norris, Stephen Hunt, Barbara Anderson, Carolyn Ward, Dan Marshall, L. Michael Dohan, Tom Anderson, Caryl Van Overmeiren, Pat Gannon and current Mayor Don DeWitte.

"When you've known the building since you were a little kid chasing up and down the stairs here with Boy Scouts and teen dances, it is good to come back and be part of preserving it and keeping it viable for the community," said DeWitte, who has been on the board three years. "If you had anything to do with being a youth in St. Charles, you've been part of this building."

Col. Baker built the center as a tribute to World War I veterans and his son, Henry Rockwell Baker, who died at age 23 from a lung injury suffered in a football game that developed into tuberculosis in April of 1914.

The center was presented to the community on May 1, 1926, as a living memorial, with the title of the Henry Rockwell Baker Memorial Community Center. An exterior wall near the entrance showcases a bronze plaque of veterans' names, while a wall in the lounge area of the three-story building has a full-length painting of Henry Rockwell Baker in his football uniform.

The basement housed the community pool until the mid 1950s, and a bowling alley, which actually expanded after the pool closed, provided recreation in the basement until the area became a youth center called the "Powder Keg" in the early 1960s. Today's youth center features computers, big-screen TVs, pingpong, air hockey, foosball and other games.

"I don't think people realize what still goes on here at this building," Peterson said. "I know some people who have lived in St. Charles for more than 10 years and they still don't know where the center is."

Even though he has been on the job only a few months since Jim Breen retired, Ochromowicz said he was amazed how active the center remains.

"I know when there is something going on because it is a little harder to find a parking space, and I see and hear a lot of people in here," Ochromowicz said. "And it's not like I am always able to check out what is going on here, but I can tell the community enjoys the building."

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