THE LAST CELEBRATION
Saturday, September 6, 2014
Coaldale Russian Club will close this year due to declining membership
By RON GOWER email@example.com
The Russian Citizens Club in Coaldale is 101 years old this year. It was once a major social venue in town, attracting hundreds of people for Saturday night dances and other special events.
Today, not many people patronize the club, located at 169 First St. in Coaldale. The busiest nights are those when dart tournaments or shuffleboard games are held.
The club is planning a big event later this year that likely will have high attendance.
It will be a centennial celebration. Among the special occurrences at this event, dozens of trophies and plaques hanging on the walls will be offered on a first-come basis to individuals who helped earn them.
No date was set for the centennial.
On Dec. 31, the club will close for good.
This week, club officers John King, Sylvester "Cip" Vavra and John King sat at a table in the otherwise empty club, talking about the good times that used to occur here.
Vavra remembers when huge crowds came to the club on a Saturday night to hear the King Brothers.
King recalls how club members physically built the existing building, with one of the members who was a Bethlehem Steel employee getting the steel for the structure from there. A lot of the people who helped do the work were miners.
Vavra told the story about Muffey Polanski. "He started the first golf tournament ever held in the whole (Panther) valley. They ran it at Indian Mountain sometime in 1954. We charged $20 to enter, and those who signed up got all the beer free."
Those good times are over for the club as rising operational costs, less bar patronage and declining membership have dealt a fatal financial blow.
Vavra said at one time the club boasted over 800 members. Today, there are just 32 active members and 101 social members.
When the club was formed in 1913, annual membership was $2 per person. The dues haven't kept up with inflation. Membership today costs $10 to be active and $7 for social status for a year.
The club's officers are Steve Shinsec, president; King, vice president; Hiles, recording secretary; Geri Vavra, financial secretary; and Cip Vavra, steward.
King has a copy of the original bylaws. The club was founded on March 19, 1913, and incorporated on July 2, 1913, as the "Russian Greek Catholic Citizens Club of Coaldale, Pa." It was immediately affiliated with St. Mary's Orthodox Church.
He said the name of the club hasn't formally changed, "but everybody just calls it the Russian Club."
The first three directors of the club were Harry Sliva, Michael Yurchak and Anthony Macenka.
The present site is the third location of the club. All were on First Street in Coaldale.
The existing building was built in the early 1950s. Hiles said it is being offered for sale.
"It has a basement and an attic," she said. "It's a nice big place. The main floor is 60 by 40 feet."
She said, "It's going to be really sad to close. My dad used to come here every day, sometimes several times a day. There was a lot of camaraderie over the years."
She recalled that as a little girl coming with her father, a dart shooter challenged her to a game of darts. Despite being just a child, she won the game.
King, 86, has been coming to the club since he was a teenager. "I used to tend bar when I was only 16," he said. "I'd come with my father and the old guys. That's how I learned to talk Russian. I've been coming here for 70 years."
Vavra has been a patron of the club since 1950, when he married King's sister, the late Helen King Vavra. The wedding actually happened in 1951.
Hiles said the club was known for its shuffleboard, darts and softball teams and has about 70 trophies and dozens of plaques to prove it.
She said that at the centennial celebration, anyone who played on any of the teams is welcome to take the respective trophies, but not until that special event.
She said the club still sponsors a dart and shuffleboard team. Those teams will move to the Sports Zoo in Lansford in January.
"We would like to stay open until March 31, but that's the middle of the heating season," Hiles said. "We just can't afford it."
Anastasia Babinetz, 52, of Coaldale said, "This place was amazing."
She recalled coming to the club with her father and that the base of the bar has colorful glass lights.
"On Sundays after church, dad would bring us and we would have chips and a soda," she said. "It was beautiful in here. It was absolutely beautiful."
She said she still comes to the club regularly and is holding onto hope that somehow the club does manage to survive.
For information on purchasing the building, or about the centennial celebration, call Lisa Hiles at 570-645-8405 or Cip Vavra at 570-645-9742.