Gift of a Lifetime
"It took everyone's breath away," says Ann Arbor City Club president Christine Larson.
by Jan Schlain
From the April, 2021 issue
A longtime member recently gave the club $800,000--more than enough to pay off its mortgage.
"The Ann Arbor City Club has been a wonderful 'home away from home' for me for many years," emails the donor, who's asked to remain anonymous. "I have enjoyed becoming friends with many members, and joining them in activities such as trips to visit historic places, patio parties in the summer, mystery and themed dinners in the fall and spring, holiday lunches, etc. Because I planned to leave a bequest for the City Club, it seemed appropriate to move the timing up to NOW to ensure this venerable community gathering place would be here for the next generation of Ann Arborites."
What general manager Greg Fleming calls "an absolutely phenomenal" gift couldn't have come at a better time. The rambling former mansion on Washtenaw Ave. is still as handsome as ever--the volunteer grounds committee worked "all spring, summer, and fall maintaining the garden," Fleming says--but the building has been closed for more than a year. Cut off from their social center, about 100 of the 400 members slipped away.
Fleming says some have told him they'll be back post-pandemic, but he also had to cancel the events that introduce the facility to new members, from lunch-and-learn lectures to a car show to weddings. The club hosts about forty-five weddings a year, he says, and many brides sign up for a $420 three-month trial membership just to be married there.
"Last summer we had weddings booked for every weekend--and sometimes two on a weekend, back to back," recalls social committee member Barb Carlisle.
All were canceled, though some were rescheduled for later in the year, then rescheduled again for 2021--"bless their hearts, they really want to get married here," Fleming says. And "a couple of them are going to get married somewhere else in a small ceremony, and have their big reception here in a year."
The Ann Arbor Women's City Club, as
it was known originally, was organized in 1951 because "there wasn't a place where women could go, where they could connect with each other and forge happy friendships," founding member Mollie Dobson recalled in a 2012 Observer article. Another founding member, Libby Langford, served both as mayor of Barton Hills and the club's president (twice). The club began admitting men long before the official name change in 2008.
Fleming came on board ten years ago, after eighteen years at the alumni association and fifteen running Camp Michgania. (He and Larson met there when she and her family were campers--they were "infamous," she says, after getting lost with children from a family they'd just met.)
During the shutdown, Fleming has been reporting to work at least five days a week, paying bills, responding to emails, and even doing some painting. "I started as the maintenance guy" at Michigania, he says. "A lot of those skills transfer."
Fleming thinks it will be several more months before it's clear that the pandemic is under control--"we're in the eye of the hurricane right now," he says. The Memorial Day car show is cancelled for another year, and the seventieth birthday celebration Carlisle's been planning will probably also have to wait till 2022. But the club will host a couple of small weddings that comply with state guidelines in May, and is booking for the summer.
Weddings bring in younger members, and professionals use the club to host clients. But Carlisle's experience is more typical: she joined after retiring in 2005 at age fifty-five. Before, "I was teaching half time and I was dealing with my family issues--running kids to and from things after school," she says. "I just didn't feel like I had the time."
She took a bridge class and met "six really lovely ladies." On Tuesday afternoons, they'd eat lunch and play bridge until about 3 p.m. "We didn't keep score. It was a learning thing," which made it comfortable. They were probably each old enough to be her mother, she says, but "they became my best friends at the club."
Asked what she most looks forward to when the club reopens, Larson laughs. "Being with people and seeing the activities ... that's one of the things the person that donated the spectacular gift hopes--that we'll get through this critical period, but we'll also look at how the city club can service the community, and one another, in new ways. I think it has energized everyone."
[Originally published in April, 2021.]
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