The following comments are from a few of our members.
The Grand River Squares was founded on February 9, 1988, by Chuck Novak. Chuck had learned to square dance at Michigan State University with the M.S.U. Promenaders during the early 1970’s. After he attended the IAGSDC conventions in 1986 and 1987, Chuck was ready to start the club.
With help from Karl Jaeckel, who furnished the music and dancing material and much encouragement from the gay square dance community, the club began, dancing with seven dancers and a phantom. Fountain Street Church offered their Fellowship Hall for a location that first winter. The Squares moved to the new LGTB Network Building at 2316 S. Division the following fall. When the Network moved to 909 Cherry St., we moved with them. When the Network decided to let go of their building, we rented space from First (Park) Congregational Church, 10 Park Place, where the Squares presently dance.
Dancing 4-8 dancers during the first few years presented many challenges. Because of the club’s small size, it took five years to complete a full Basic/Mainstream class. When the club was ready, we used the end of the club night to begin Plus. As the Grand River Squares grew, Gerry Wheeler, a former Cleveland City Country Dancer who had moved to Grand Rapids, taught the Basic/Mainstream class while Chuck instructed the Plus and Advanced Class. Later, Gerry would take on the Plus classes as well while Chuck went to teaching Advanced full time. Our first Advance Class finished A1 in three years and A2 the following two years. Recently, Jim Molloy has been the Advanced instructor with the help of Dale Shannon, and Chuck moved back to the Basic/Mainstream and Plus classes.
Prior to the first fly-in, the Chi-Town Squares traveled to Grand Rapids to join the Grand River Squares for a weekend of dancing in the spring of 1990. The Grand River Squares hosted a Saturday evening potluck and dance to tapes at Grace Episcopal Church. Sunday morning the group gathered at T.J. Benedicts, a restaurant in the lower level of the Oakwood Apartments for brunch, followed by more dancing at the church.
In 1991, Howard Richman from New Jersey volunteered to call our first fly-in for a plane ticket and half of the Saturday night raffle. For the next four years, Howard flew in to Grand Rapids to lead the fly-ins at this unbelievable price. Our first fly-ins were located at Club 67, 67 S. Division, now Rumors Nightclub. When scheduling issues arose, we moved to the Carousel Nightclub at 76 S. Division for the next two years. Several times neither place could host us, so we danced in the tiny Network space on Cherry St. One memorable fly-in in early May, club members Ed Lannin and Dale Venneman hosted the Saturday evening potluck and dance in their barn in Coopersville. A freak cold snap and snow caused a very cold evening of dancing.
Later the Fly-ins were held at South Congregational Church at the corner of Madison Ave. and Alger St. The church gave up their fellowship hall for the whole weekend so we could dance and not have to tear down for Sunday morning services. When South Church was sold, we moved our fly-ins to the Latvian Hall on Grand Ave. where we would have two halls of dancing all weekend.
Over the years many dancers have joined us during our nights of sashays and do-si-does. The club has always had a primary focus that square dancing is supposed to be FUN!
Come Join US!
My beginnings with the Grand River Squares actually begins at Michigan State University. And it was a girl. I met Brenda at a convention/camp, of sorts, for recent high school graduates. That fall, Brenda and I were freshman at M.S.U., but it was late winter when I ran into her on campus. Even though it was a brisk Wednesday evening, she was wearing a square dance dress under her plaid winter coat. She invited me to the M.S.U. square dance club, the Promenders.
My Wednesday evenings for the rest of my college career were spent at the I.M. building where the Promenaders danced. Having square-danced for as long as I could remember–in elementary school, at 4-H camp, with my family–learning Western style square dancing was just a small leap. In the mid 1970’s it was all mainstream. Plus and other levels had not yet evolved.
Of the life-long friendships I made there, this one stands out, for we still spend our Tuesday evenings together at the Grand River Squares. Such out-going identical twins, Carl and Chuck were dynamic personalities within the Promenaders. They were well-known by the adult folk at the area square dance clubs for they had a charm and style that was all there own. Or so I thought. I had a special affinity with the brothers, for when I began going with the Promenaders to these area dances it was almost commonplace for somebody to ask ask if I was their younger brother. Can you imagine the pride I felt at that suggestion?
The name on my square dance badge was Flick. It was a fraternity name that I used even for signing checks. Many of my college friends still call me Flick, and in our college days most didn’t even know my real name. When we had to elect a new club president–our vibrant president, Chuck, was graduating–my name was written on the green chalkboard as Dave Eppelheimer. So few knew my real name, the had to get out the eraser and change it. Following in his footsteps is yet another memory guilded with pride for this former “little brother.”
The Grand River Squares was ten years old when my long-time partner and love, Jay, passed away. I had danced with the club at fly-in a couple times at Chuck’s invitation, for we had both settled in the Grand Rapids area. However, Jay was not a dancer, so it was not until I was seeking a supportive community to assuage my loneliness and tide-like grief, that I turned to the G.R. Squares. I found there a group that held my hand and held me in THEIR hand. A safe refuge to begin living again, the Grand River Squares were and have been so much more than a club. It is family. It is home.
When I think of what the Grand River Squares means to me, memories flash through my mind of dancing in classes, at our Fly-Ins and at other clubs and at IAGSDC conventions. I think of all the traveling and site seeing I have done during Fly-Ins and IAGSDC Conventions.
But mainly I think of the people I have met and grown to love. The experiences I have enrich my life so much and are too numerous to mention, after all I am talking about many years… of square dancing.
The first memory that popped into my head when I stopped to try and think of what to write, was my very first night at squares. It was a sday night of class at The Network in a small building on the north side of Cherry Street in the Eastown area. I had called The Network previously looking for a connection with the gay community, and was told that a group meets for line dancing and square dancing on Tuesday nights in their building. I wasn’t sure about doing square dancing but thought I might like line dancing.
I showed up and made my way through to the back part of the building where a group of people, that I didn’t know yet, smiled and said hello. A very outgoing man with a big smile, ( Chuck ), invited me to join them. I told him I would just sit and watch. But soon Chuck had me up and dancing. I think it must have been the week of Halloween, because two men arrived a little later wearing Native American costumes, Dale was the man and Ed was dressed as an Indian maiden. Ed and Dale soon became two of my best friends, and I still love them even though I have not seen them for quite awhile.
Besides square dancing Chuck did teach a line dance that night. I enjoyed that and the square dancing too! And then as anyone who knows the powers of persuasion that Chuck has, not only had he got me to dance with them but I wound up in the club photo that they were taking that night. So I guess I had to stay with this club and be part of this warm welcoming family. Thank you Chuck and all that were there on my first evening of square dancing with the Grand River Squares.
My square dancing family has expanded over the years to include not only each new member of our club but also the members of other clubs in the IAGSDC. David and I have gone to Fly-Ins and conventions in several other cities and felt right at home because our friends were there with us to enjoy the dancing and the fun that surrounds these events.
The Grand River Squares members have been there for me when I have needed them. I love being a Grand River Square.