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Cape has long history of social, service groups

August 14, 2015
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

From the very beginning, Cape Coral has been known as a city full of people who give back by donating time, services or just being there for people of certain nationalities.

In the beginning that was especially important, since few people lived there and everybody needed each other in order to make it through.

And no matter whether it was a church or a civic association, the one thing they had in common was they had to find somewhere to meet, whether it was the Cape Coral Yacht Club, a storefront or even in private homes.

Article Photos

St. Andrew Catholic Church on Del Prado Boulevard in 1966.

The first church to come to town was the Faith Presbyterian Church in 1961, according to Paul Sanborn, who went to work for the Rosen Brothers and Gulf American Land Corporation in 1962 and today is the town historian.

"When they dedicated their church, Coronado wasn't finished, so they couldn't have it at the church, but at the corner of Cape Coral Parkway and Coronado," Sanborn said. "There had been no development over there to that point."

There were many denominations that came to Cape Coral in the early years, but it would take years for them to build their own sanctuaries.

The Rev. Everett Bunk started the Christ Lutheran Church in March 1960, for which his wife was an organist.

"We used to call Everett the 'Storefront Pastor' because they didn't have a church at the time. It was in the Big John Shopping Center," Sanborn said. "I used to call him the 'Peddling Pastor' because he used to ride a bike up Del Prado. The congregation told him not to do that because the traffic was getting bad."

The Rev. Bunk wasn't the only storefront pastor. Most churches got started in stores on Sunday when they were closed. Christ Lutheran got started at the Nautilus Inn and Webb's Clothing Store. Epiphany Episcopal held its first service in 1963 in the Quirk Arcade. St. Andrew Catholic Church held its first mass in the Youth Center in 1962.

Even in the late '60s, the Christian Science Center started out in a rented store on Cape Coral Parkway.

When First Christian Church started in December 1962, its first service was in a private home.

Many of the first church services were held at the Yacht Club once it opened in 1962. Sanborn, who managed the Yacht Club, said as many as four services would be held there on Sunday.

"Through the courtesy of Gulf American, the churches got to use the Yacht Club. The Catholics would come in a 7 a.m. for an hour, then the Episcopal Church came in after that, then the Methodists," Sanborn said. "That lasted for about a year until the churches built their own churches."

Sanborn said Gulf American also gave each new church a plot of land and $1,000 to get started and it didn't take long for the churches to sprout out of the ground.

St. Andrews and the Episcopal Church were built in 1964 on Del Prado near where the Midpoint Bridge overpass is now.

Today there are nearly 100 houses of worship in Cape Coral covering all denominations - some starting out the same way their forefathers started - in storefronts, people's homes and anywhere they can get space.

Social clubs

The Yacht Club was also home to many of the social clubs that began to sprout up as the city got its walking legs.

Andy Anderson, the grandfather of Elmer Tabor, started the Kiwanis Club in 1961, making it the oldest organization in the city.

The Cape Coral Civic Association was next in 1962, as it called the shots for the city during its origins before filing the articles of incorporation to incorporate Cape Coral as a city in 1970.

Today, the group still conducts business at the Yacht Club, where it holds its most important events such as the candidate forum.

"If you even mention changing the venue you get a backlash. The Civic Association has always been here," said current Civic Association President Graham Morris.

In 1964, Willy Gruetzenbach had the vision to establish what has become the largest German American Club in Southwest Florida.

Gruetzenbach promoted his idea to 12 of his friends and held its first meetings at the Cape Coral Yacht Club before being chartered. The club celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.

"Once Gruetzenbach got some money together, he bought the land, cleaned it out and put the building here and got the Waltzing Waters for side income," said Gunther Denner, a 35-year member of the club. "We also had bingo, but when that fizzled out Klaus Kohl got the idea of Oktoberfest."

The Italian-American Club opened in 1966 by Joe and Grace Raso and Jim and Shirley Pampinella and built its building two years later, swelling to as many as 600 members by the time the city was incorporated.

Despite nearly closing in 2012 as the club had trouble finding members to replace the old ones, it has rebounded nicely.

Another club celebrating 50 years is the Rotary, for which Sanborn is a charter member and past president. Since then, Cape Coral Goldcoast (1985) and Cape Coral North (1993) have signed up.

And where was the charter celebration held? At the Yacht Club.

"It was the only building of its size that could accommodate these organizations. Gulf American owned it, they didn't charge these people, and that was another benefit," Sanborn said. "Everything in those days happened at the Yacht Club. It was the jewel entity."

By 1965 there were 58 social organizations in the city. Many of which are still in existence. Among them were the Cape Mates, the Cape Coral Coin Club, The Cruise Club, Women's Club, Hobby Club and the Cape Coral Community Choral, along with many more.

The Hobby Club was another charter organization that is now long gone, Sanborn said. It was simply a group of people who had different hobbies and shared them with others.

They even started a New Resident Club in 1967, which was started by Helen Peck as a way to greet new female residents who came to town.

The problem? They all graduated from the club after one year of residency. The idea came to start another club that had similar activities new residents enjoyed.

At the same time, the boards of the first year formed the Ex-Execs Club. The two groups then worked together to form Club 68, named after the year it was formed.

When that got too crowded, Club 76 was created, then a Club 85, then it invited men for the first time in 1988, became Club 90, Club 2001, and finally the Cape Coral Social Club in 2004.

Both clubs are still active today with the New Resident Club having more than 800 members

As the town quickly grew, it became too much for Peck to handle so it moved to a club format. Today, it meets the first Tuesday of each month at the Yacht Club so people can meet new friends and about the rich, if still short, history of the city.

With so many retirees coming into town, the need to have veterans organizations became more vital. The American Legion Post 90 came into existence in 1962, moving around for years before finding a place of its own in 2012. Today, it boasts hundreds of members.

The Harney Point VFW started in 1968, helping the city become one of the most veteran-friendly in the nation.



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