Ira Colhoff can’t remember a time when the Rapid City Club for Boys wasn’t vital to his happiness.
Colhoff started coming to the Club for Boys in 1972 when he was a young boy living on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He played pool with his brothers, took shop classes, and crafted Native American art. Most importantly, he formed lifelong friendships with boys from all over Rapid City.
As the Club for Boys celebrates 50 years in Rapid City on Saturday, Colhoff — who now works as the game room supervisor at the Club – and other staff members are reflecting on its importance to the community.
“It teaches boys essential social skills. The boys are never treated differently for being a different race – nor if they are rich or poor. To this day, I think that’s a huge part of why Club for Boys is successful,” said Colhoff, 45, now of Rapid City. “I am still friends with 90 percent of the guys I met during my childhood at the Club for Boys!”
Dave Oyler, interim executive director and historian for the Club, said he feels lucky to be in a position that changes children’s lives for the better.
“We see many boys who come from unbelievable home situations, but their spirits have not diminished,” he said. “What’s most fulfilling is seeing the smiles on their faces, and feeling like I’m really making a difference. There’s nothing better than when the boys come back and tell me the positive changes they’ve had in their lives, thanks to the skills they’ve learned here.”
Peter Anderson – who was president of Club for Boys in 2007 and 2008 – said one of the most pivotal moments in the history of the Club was the day they decided to break from the national organization.
It was 1985 and the Club, not yet 25 years old and a part of Boys Clubs of America, was at a fork in the road: either add girls to the Club membership or withdraw from the national organization.
“The Club went out on its own, and that was a pretty brave decision,” said Anderson. He said the success of Girls Inc. in Rapid City was a big factor in keeping the Club for Boys from becoming co-ed.
“We already had a really great Girls Club in town, so it made it a somewhat easier decision to remain a Boys Club,” said Anderson, who now serves on the Foundation Board of Directors.
That decision helped solidify the Club as a mainstay service organization in the Black Hills that has continued to gain momentum and expand its outreach, setting attendance records this summer.
“This was the biggest summer we’ve ever had in the history of the Club,” Oyler said. “We’re very excited about the number of boys and their families. We have had a positive impact this summer—and for 50 years.”
It has not come without its challenges.
The humble beginnings of the organization began with a state charter by the Morning Optimists in 1958. Roger Erickson served as the first executive director, opening the Club on Nov. 23, 1963—a day later than expected because of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
The first Club was in the old Train Depot on Eighth Street, but quickly became overcrowded. The organization moved to a new building on the corner of Sixth and St. Louis streets in 1965, but was forced to move again after the devastating June 9, 1972, flood that killed more than 200 people in Rapid City. The building wasn’t damaged, Oyler said, but it was located in the new flood plain.
The Club then moved to the old Rice Cycle building on Omaha Street for two years while a new building at 320 North Fourth Street—its current location—was being built. Many of the construction materials from the first Boys Club building were used to construct the current building, which was expanded in 2000 to add 13,000 square feet.
Even with all the moves, the mission has stayed the same, board members say.
“It’s a great place for kids to get started on the right foot,” said Mike Theis, a current board member who served as president in 2009 and 2010.
More than 30,000 boys have been involved in Boys Club activities during the last 50 years. Rob Hengen, who was president in 2011 and 2012, sits on the current board and sees the organization as a vital part of the Black Hills.
“It’s an organization that is extremely important to the community,” he said.
For kids who need positive role models, a safe place to go and friends, the Club for Boys has done a tremendous service, he added.
“We’re helping these kids become young adults that will stay out of trouble,” he said. “It gives them hope; they know they can achieve more.”
Hengen hopes the Club will serve even more boys in the future with expanded programs, a vision possible with more community education, he said.
“Rapid City is a great community,” he said, and sharing the Club’s mission will not only help with funding, but draw in more volunteers.
“Just come down and help the kids, and get to know them,” he said, adding that the boys are inspired whether they are learning from a teacher, stay-at-home parent, attorney or construction worker. “Two of the greatest gifts a person can give our boys are positive attention and a diversity of experience.”
Theis and Oyler hope for a better transportation system that could bus boys who live far from the Club.
“It would be fantastic if we could have buses to transport them at every school in Rapid City,” Oyler said.
For Colhoff, the future means that everything comes full circle. “It’s awesome seeing the kids I first worked with in my 20s and 30s send their own kids back to the Club for Boys,” he said.
“You can see similar traits in the parents and the kids. It’s a wonderful feeling to know you helped those boys become young men who are now fathers. The Club for Boys is the greatest place in Rapid City!”