Think of places where kids are hanging out on the streets, with nowhere to go and getting into trouble - and New York, Chicago or Los Angeles might come to mind. But that’s the very situation that was taking place during the late 1950s and early 1960s in Rapid City – until an answer was found. Today we visit the Club for Boys on its 50th anniversary to talk to members – old and new – about what it’s like to have somewhere to go.
Nineteen sixty-three: Martin Luther King, Jr. declares he has a dream…President John F. Kennedy pushes for a Civil Rights Bill and is assassinated in Dallas…..U.S. military advisers number 15,000 in Vietnam…and Steve McQueen rides his motorcycle across the German countryside in The Great Escape while the “surfing hit” Wipe Out rides a musical wave across the country.
Meanwhile, boys of all ages in Rapid City are looking for fun – frequently in the wrong places.
“There were a lot of young boys and teenage boys that were roaming the streets, getting in trouble, and had nothing to do after school and in the summer,” Dave Oyler recalls.
Oyler is Interim Executive Director of Rapid City’s Club for Boys. But he’s been a part of the club since it opened in 1963. Oyler says the idea was the brainchild of Judge George Hearst and members of the Morning Optimists Club who realized the need for a safe place for boys to spend their time and energy. They saw a good example of a Boys Club in Sioux Falls
“The Boys Club, even though it was not relatively new for the rest of the country, it was new for South Dakota,” explains Oyler. “And so we saw what a fantastic club they had in Sioux Falls and decided Rapid City needed that. So they came back and that was in the mid-50s.”
The Rapid City Boys Club was granted a charter from the national Boys Club organization in 1958. But it took time to find a location and a director as well as raise enough money to start. Brad Bradfield was there when the club’s doors opened on November 23, 1963.
“I was one of the first members,” says Bradfield. “Talked to Roger and met him before the club even opened. Roger Erickson. The original…original founder. Founding father and executive director.”
Like many other men who were members in their youth, Brad Bradfield credits what he learned at the Rapid City Club for Boys as being instrumental to his adult development. Among the most significant values taught at the club has been a sense of equality, not just in sports and games, says Bradfield…but in life.
“Roger and Dave and everybody else that’s been here, that’s been directors here or on the board or anything else has really tried to instill, I think, that everybody be treated the same,” Bradfield observes. “I saw Roger more than once send some kid home because he was picking on a younger kid…or he was picking on a kid that happened to be Native American…or African-American…or whatever. And Roger wouldn’t put up with that.”
And that same mindset holds true today, says current director Mark Kline…who’s been involved with the Rapid City Club for Boys for 42 years…since he was 7.
“We serve all boys,” Kline explains. “And it’s truly what we’re here for…meeting their needs today, whether they have few or\ great needs, we’re trying to do that. But those kids who have the greatest needs are the ones that need us most.”
Mark Kline adds that it’s essential to have someplace for boys where there are positive role models and mentors who’ll put them on the right track and, most importantly, show them that somebody cares.
“Someone who says, ‘Hey, you’re important just as you are. We expect you to make mistakes. You’ve gotta’ suffer consequences. Come back though. You’re still okay as a person,” says Kline.
Taknig a walk around the massive 33,000 square-foot building that houses the Club for Boys, I stop to talk with 23 year-old Michael Iron Cloud. He’s playing carpet-ball, a variation of pool, without the cues. I ask Michael if that’s all he learned from his 11 years as a club member.
“Yeah,” Michael replies, laughing. “I guess staying out of trouble and a good afterschool program.”
Brothers Joey and John, 16 and 13, are members since each was 6. They agree that neither has gotten much better at shooting pool in all that time, but Joey says he’s gotten a much better understanding of life.
“That there’s a lot of different types of people, I guess,” Joey says. “That we’re all different in a way.”
“Is that okay?” I ask.
“Yeah,” exclaims Joey. “Oh, yeah.”
John continues his brother’s comment.
“Just cause you’re different doesn’t make you less of a person than anyone else,” says John.
"Including if you can’t shoot pool,” I ask.
“Exactly,” John replies.
Sebastian McDougald also started at the Club for Boys when he was 6. Fourteen years later, he’s still here…as a volunteer. Sebastian says he loved to play basketball at the club as a kid but also mastered some tools for life
“I learned to be more trustworthy…and responsible,” Sebastian explains.
Sebastian also found a new family of friends.
“I feel a lot better…because…there’s really not a lot of my family there for me, but my friends are always there for me,” says Sebastian. “And that’s what I like.”
And there’s no more important time of year to know you have a family, or a place to go, than at Christmas…when the Rapid City Club for Boys is a home away from home…and a Santa Claus…to many boys and families in need.
Note - The Rapid City Club for Boys broke away from the Boys Club of America in 1985.
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