By late 1950, bridge in Laurel was about to be born. At that time, there were Unit Games in both Baltimore and in Washington, there was a game at the Fort Meade Officer's Club (this soon moved to the NCO club on Thursday nights and was run, first, by Colonel Henry Walker, then by Jack Despain and in the 70's by Arnie Frankel) and there was a fairly active bridge club at NSA. The NSA group held annual tournaments and had a Friday night invitational game. A somewhat informal group of bridge players in Laurel met regularly on Tuesday night. This group was primarily run by Fay Richards (d 1982) and Tula Pryor (d 1986) and included Hazel Sanner (d 1992), Bill Harmeyer, Claude and Dottie Kramer, Bob and Marina Oakes, and Bill Nucker. About 1962, they formed a committee to formalize the game, buy some supplies, apply for an ACBL sanction, and hire directors. They found places to play, rounded up additional bridge players and duplicate bridge in Laurel was born. There were soon games on Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday evenings.
From 1960-1970 the games were held at many locations - the bowling alley, an apartment at Steward Manor, the Women's Club Building on Main Street, the Activities Building for St. Mary's Church, the basement of Steward Towers, the basement of Equitable Trust Bank Building, a room at Howard Johnson's Motel, and finally in the old Avondale Mill. The games during this period of times averaged about 9 tables and there were a number of different directors, Ralph Barrows, Henry Walker, Mrs. Walker, Bill Nucker, Jack Despain and, in the late 60's, Alan Wilhide and Mike Carroad. During this time, the group was known as The Laurel Bridge Society. Games were generally run by Tula Pryor and Fay Richards with help from anybody and everybody. Everybody was expected to set up tables, tear down tables, make coffee, wash coffeepots, empty ashtrays (almost everybody smoked), and always volunteer a helping hand.
After ten years of hostessing and coffee-making, there were frequently grumbling noises from Tula and Fay about the lack of help they were getting from the general membership. The Laurel Bridge Society was presumably a non-profit organization, run by the sweat of its members but few of the players wanted to do the scut work and the ladies' complaints were certainly justified. In the late 1960's, Mike Carroad and Alan Wilhide were a couple of bridge young men, life masters, expert partners, and sometime-directors in Laurel. Mike and Alan made the Laurel Bridge Society an offer. The two of them would take over the complete management and direction of the Club. They would set up the games, find nice places to play, do the paperwork, handle the finances, make coffee, clean up afterwards, direct, etc. They proposed making it a commercial enterprise, perhaps even building a BRIDGE HOUSE. At a special meeting of most of the regular players, they made their plea and it was agreed that everyone would abide by the vote of the group.
After much discussion, a vote was taken and it was overwhelmingly in favor of the plan proposed by Mike and Alan. However, Tular Pryor, Bill Harmeyer, and a handful of others were unhappy with the vote and, in spite of the agreement to abide by the outcome, refused to go along with the majority. The split was now complete and Laurel suddenly had two Bridge Clubs. There was a great deal of bad feeling in the bridge community, many letters were written about the franchise, and the bank account was confiscated by Tula. Alan and Mike had to acquire a sanction, furniture and a place to play. But they did these things and those who voted for them followed them. Fay Richards became the paid hostess and did all the daily chores, leaving everyone else to feel free to do nothing with a clear conscience.
The first playing site was on the second floor over Dougherty's Drug Store at 304 Main Street. After a fairly short stay there, the club moved to Georgetown Alley, the back walkway near the movie theater in the Open Shopping Center. Eddie McCue ran a flower shop on the upper level and the Bridge Club used the lower level spaces. The flowershop and the bridge players shared one bathroom (unisex) and occasionally bridge players would spill over into the flower shop for big games. In addition to the Georgetown Alley games, Tula Pryor continued to run regular weekly games under the name of the Laurel Bridge Society. There was also a Saturday night game at George Laisse's home in Cheverly that many of the Laurel players attended and the Fort Meade Thursday night game continued to flourish.
More often than not, Mike Carroad was left alone to direct all of the Laurel games and this became an onerous chore. Alan Wilhide eventually died in Arizona and Michael was forced to carry the load alone. In August of 1977, the flower shop ran into financial difficulty and the sheriff's department finally locked the doors for non-payment of debts. So one evening, when the bridge players arrived, they found the flower shop closed and locked and could only use a small area of the lower level for the game. Unfortunately, this area did not include the bathroom. Between rounds, Faye Richards carried carloads of uncomfortable players to her apartment nearby to use the facilities. Mike also announced that he could no longer run this game and suddenly there was a bunch of avid bridge players without a home.
What were they to do?? There were many small group meetings about their fate. In addition to having no place to play, they had no director, no equipment and very little knowledge about running a duplicate bridge club. Two of the best and most respected of the players left adrift were Ray Fetzner and Pete McManus and a lot of people were counting on them to come up with a solution. Mary Frye also volunteered to be part of the solution because she wanted very much to keep bridge in Laurel and if that meant running the game then sobeit. They conferred with the general gang of lonesome players, got their O.K. and proceeded to take over. First they enlisted their significant others (Judy Fetzner, Alice Yoke and Frank Dresser) to help, they incorporated, they hired Fay Richards to take care of the setting-up and social aspects of the game, they bought the franchise and all the tables, chairs, and supplies from Michael for $500.00, and they hired Bernie Arret and Arnie Frankel to direct for them until Ray and Pete could take the director's test and do the directing.
Now they had everything but a place to play. After a lot of searching, they finally settled on 2 large rooms on the second floor of the old Laurel High School, which was then being used as a meeting place for The Laurel Boys and Girls Club. It was a nice roomy place to play. However it wasn't air conditioned and they spent a small fortune on a system that was installed on the roof. Thus began "P. J. Fram", a small business corporation (Pete Judy Frank Ray Alice Mary), and the forerunner of the present group of owners of the Laurel Bridge Club, Inc. The first game under the auspices of the corporation took place on September 15, 1977.
While the spaces were very nice at the old high school, there were some shortcomings. The rooms were on the 2nd floor, with no elevator available, and the parking was inadequate at best. A new business center was opening on Laureldale Drive and the management was anxious to have the bridge club as tenants and designed spaces to their particular specifications. The bridge club moved in September 1980 and have remained there ever since.
Over the years, there have been many directors who have directed regularly at The Laurel Bridge Club, Inc. Dick Mucci started directing the Friday night game in 1982 and has become a part of that game. He's a good director, an able computer operator and a downright friendly guy. Friday night would just not be the same without him. For many years, 1980 to 1996, Patrick Frye directed the Saturday night game. His kids gew up playing caddy for their Dad and he continued until Saturday night became a non-smoking game and he quit his directing because he couldn't quit smoking.
As people's lives have changed and their fortunes aspired to new avenues (that means they grew tired of running the club) the owership of The Laurel Bridge Club also changed. P. J. Fram remained intact for about 5 years, until Pete left to move to Virginia and get married to a non-bridge playing lady. Steve Carton holds the record for the shortest tenure. He found that he didn't like to direct, clean coffee pots or do the accounting. Don Savage quit when he got married and current owners Rose and Don Berman held their wedding reception in the club spaces, but many years before they became owners. The Fetzners, Ron Woodsum, Jonann Zorn, Jim McGann, Linda Smith, and Jim Miller remained owners until their fortunes really did take them to new cities or new pursuits. The constancy of always having to consider the bridge club in your plans and the horror of directing have chased many an owner away. Jim Thurman hated to direct, as did Bill McGann and Nora Bolita. When Jim Thurman left, he unfortunately took Jane with him. Three of the owners never did any directing - Ralph Sturgis, who did yeoman service for a lot of years as our accountant, and Alice Yoke and Frank Dresser, who remained owners for nearly 20 years, before deserting the ship. Frank continued to do all of our accounting until his death in 2007.
Jerry Keller, the past President of The Maryland Bridge Association, an expert player, and a competent director was an owner for about 15 years. Until 1998, Ted Ying was our novice director, a regular WBL director, and also the club purchasing agent, who did a great job of keeping the cupboards stocked. Michael Mayer, a Naval Officer stationed in Norfolk was an owner and director till 2005 when he got out of the Navy, married, and left the area. His friend Karen Chagalis (now Karen Blatt) took over his ownership and remains an owner. For years, owner/computer-Guru Sue Johnston kept the points straight, the records accurate, and the sanity of the other owners, at least somewhat intact. Rose Berman, the current Club Manager now does that critical job.
The present owners include Rose and Don Berman, mentioned above, who are absolutely indispensible because they assume responsibility and are willing to tackle any job that comes along. Melody and Bob Jenkins have been owners/directors since 1998. Melody directed the novice game for a while, which has been off and on over the years. Bob directs, and maintained our web page and schedule until Bob Krueger took over that task in 2010. To the great benefit of the club, Bob and Priscilla Krueger became owners in 2009 (They met at the club in 1979 and were married in 1980). In 2009, one of our intermediate players, Mike Berard, took the Directors course and started an occasional Saturday night novice/intermediate game. Thanks to his great handling, this has since grown into a regular stratified game. Mike and the Kruegers now split the directing duties with the Bermans and Bob Jenkins, with Linda Smith filling in.
As 2000 rolled by, the club moved forward into 21st century technology. We acquired a dealing/hand-record setup in 2006 thanks to Eric Seevers of Lancaster PA. Would you believe Eric still comes down every Wednesday to play and deal the boards for the next week. The surplus Johns Hopkins computers supplied by Bob Jenkins over the years finally got to be a pain. In 2010 the club bought a new laptop, with web access installed by Bob Krueger to post our games on the ACBL website. Now the game results with hand records are posted on the web within 15 minutes after all games, a far cry from the old days of hand scored games. New flourescent lights were installed in 2007. And we now have a 21st century programmable thermostat, which didn't solve the eternal problem of half the players complaining it is too hot and half complaining it is too chilly.
Current owners: the Bermans (Rose as Manger), the Jenkins, Karen Blatt, Linda Smith, the Kruegers, and Mary Dresser.
Mary Dresser is the only one of the original P. J. FRAM who remains an owner after 34 years. She doesn't do much these days, but she is indeed the Owner Emeritus.
Last changed: Aug 13, 2010