Have you ever been in Brookfield’s Kiwanis Park when it rained? Maybe you had a chance to run for your car, or maybe you decided to just wait it out. If you did the latter, you probably ran for the safety of what is today known as, simply, the Kiwanis Shelter.
While you were in there, you probably looked around and took note of the non-working water fountain, the fireplace that looks as though it hasn’t had a fire set in it in decades, and the metal plaque on the wall.
What plaque? Why, the one that reads “John Staren Shelter.” Who was John Staren, you ask? Why, you might as well ask who Mrs. Dorothy Garst was.
The story of the Kiwanis Shelter began back in September 1957 when Mrs. Garst, as the project chairman of Brookfield’s Welcome Wagon Newcomers Alumnae Club, suggested to the club members that a new, fireproof, vanda l-proof shelter be built to replace the old frame pavilion that burned down at around 1 a.m. on Tuesday, June 23, 1953.
According to the Enterprise newspaper of June 24, the old pavilion had been built as a WPA work relief project in 1937, and had cost $3,000. It had been the scene of dances, picnics, civic affairs and other gatherings. Only two photos of it are still known to exist, which depict an Easter Sunday sunrise service held in the late 1940s.
At the time of the fire, Mrs. Garst was writing for the Enterprise as their “roving reporter,” and thought long and hard about getting another shelter erected. The Newcomers Alumnae Club agreed in 1957 that it was about time something was done about this, to not only keep people out of the rain, but to also enhance the quality of life in the community.
Mrs. Garst put the plan of the club project before the Brookfield Recreation Board. They approved it and promised to help out.
Getting the shelter built wasn’t going to be easy, and, especially, wasn’t going to be cheap–not if something more enduring than a wood frame structure was going to survive fire or vandalism for very long. Consequently, she sought out the freely donated services of an architect, who turned out to be Raymond Moldenhauer, the husband of one of the Newcomers Club’s active members.
In 1957, a mostly frame building for the site was going to cost around $14,000, being the least expensive amount possible. At the time, in the village, a five-room bungalow with a two-car garage on a 50-by-125-foot lot was being sold for $16,500. Keeping in mind the monetary restrictions, Mr. Moldenhauer drew up an ultramodern design that appealed to everyone. The precast concrete and brick structure would be a thing made to last.
Once that important detail was out of the way, Mrs. Garst went to work at raising the funds needed. She wrote to all the local organizations, telling them what her group was going to do, and asking for their help. Initially, she received only three responses offering cash donations: from the Brookfield Junior Women’s Club, the Kiwanis Club and the Girl Scouts.
Undaunted, Mrs. Garst refused to give up the sometimes frustrating quest, continually begging and pleading for financial help. At last, in July 1959, she made her appeal at a meeting of the Brookfield Chamber of Commerce, outlining the plans for the proposed building.
It was at this meeting that Village Trustee Dale Smithers suggested a fundraising committee be made up of chamber members. A few months later, in September 1959 this committee met for a complimentary dinner given by Frank Buresh, at his Lobster House on 31st Street. Mrs. Garst was officially appointed to the post of general chairman, with Mylon Fisher (of the well-known pharmacy) selected to act as fundraising chairman and Phil Bergeron to be the Building Committee chairman.
A white Cadillac automobile was raffled off as the first fundraising source. Each ticket cost $10, and the result netted a profit of $7,000. An additional $3,000 was given to the project by the Brookfield Recreation Department. Of this $1,500 came from fire insurance money received due to the burning down of the old pavilion. The other $1,500 was given with the understanding that a storage area for recreation equipment would be included as part of the plan.
As for the Newcomers Alumnae Club, they had already given $1,500 to the project, but just as important was the fact that they had never wavered in their determination to see it through. Other community organizations, such as the Hollywood Women’s Club, the VFW, the Campfire Girls and churches and PTAs also made monetary contributions.
The ground-breaking ceremony took place on the sunny Sunday of July 24, 1960. Officiating at the event was Trustee Dale Smithers, who stated that this marked “the beginning of the end.” The next day, July 25, the Pelop Construction Company of Glen Ellyn began excavating and preparing for the foundation.
Work went slowly. The base cement forms were set into proper place, and the prefabricated concrete arches were delivered and lowered into place in December 1960. Then the entire building was covered over in a plastic wrap “cocoon,” so that the cement flooring could be poured and set properly, using oil burners to help it dry out in spite of the freezing temperatures.
The cement work couldn’t wait for warmer weather, due to the project completion clause in the building contract. After the floor was hard, the plastic cocoon was left on through March 1961 to make additional work more bearable.
Even though the shelter was actually being built, the full amount of funds needed for its completion still had not been achieved. In spite of the growing public and civic interest, costs for the project had escalated. The $14,000 wood frame shelter began to look cheap in comparison. By 1961, the concrete and brick shelter would cost in the range of $21,000.
It was then that Congress Park resident John Staren, the noted Kiwanian and local philanthropist, made up the difference of the fund, which was considerable, through his own personal monetary contribution.
It is for his act of charity that the shelter has forever been named and a plaque put up, although not many residents have even heard of his name, outside of having seen it on the shelter wall. Looking at the plaque today is uninspiring, as it needs a thorough cleaning. Staren died in 1966, but still the shelter, a reflection of his generosity, lives on.
But, the forgotten person who spearheaded the very existence of the shelter was Mrs. Dorothy Garst, still presently living in her family home in the Hollywood section of the village. Attempts were made to contact Garst for this story, but they were unsuccessful.
You will not currently find her name commemorated by a plaque or, outside of this article, mentioned anywhere in connection with the shelter. Yet, it is due to her initial efforts and unflagging determination that the shelter came to be. She is long overdue for recognition.
At 12:30 p.m., on Sunday, June 11, 1961 cane the culmination of her dream, when the official shelter dedication ceremonies were held with the usual attendant speeches. But this was to be no mere hour or so of speech making and ribbon cutting, but a full-blown celebration.
The Chamber of Commerce held the very first Chuck Wagon Day, selling tickets to a sumptuous “Chuck Wagon Dinner” of western-style, charcoal-broiled barbecued chicken and foil-wrapped baked potatoes, prepared over a long, brick barbecue. Kids who wanted less messy and complicated fare could have hot dogs.
There was no end of entertainment, with singing cowboys, a branding exhibition, an Indian war dance, pony rides and square dancing. Still other events included a sewing contest, and savings bonds were awarded for the children wearing the best cowboy and cowgirl costumes. In fact, everyone attending the dinner was encouraged to wear cowboy attire. The entire day must’ve put the Fourth of July festivities, held three weeks later, to shame.
Over the years, the sturdy concrete and brick “Staren Shelter” has aged, more or less gracefully, to nearly 44 years. A few things need to be cleaned and repaired. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a hot fire crackling in the fireplace, after a cold couple of hours on the park’s new ice rink, or, for that matter, even on a chilly, rainy Fourth of July?