Going way back, Wedgewood would never have happened had not there been a dinner party at Tavistock Country Club.
I believe it was Jack Markheim who was developing Lane of Acres, and he invited to dinner 6 or 7 couples who had either started to build or who had purchased lots. It proved to be such a pleasant evening that the following spring they got together again and this time decided to include the people who lived on Tavistock Lane and any of the side streets that were then in existence.
This proved so successful that they formed a committee for the following year on a very informal basis and decided that they would have a spring dinner for all home or lot owners in the square bounded by the railroad, the country club, Warwick Road and Upland Way. At each year’s dinner the following year’s committee was appointed, nine in number.
In 1952, after dinner and the few speeches, and introduction of new neighbors, Dr. Chester (Sam) Samuelson asked to speak for a few minutes on a project that he thought would be a great idea for that particular group of neighbors – a swimming pool located as centrally as possible in that area, and there were still a lot of empty lots. His thoughts were just a small pool, fenced with dressing facilities and restrooms. Parking wasn’t considered a problem, as it would be within walking distance of most residents. He was listened to politely. Some people seemed generally interested, some barely. By this time there had been cocktails before dinner, after dinner drinks and people were anxious to get along with the drinking and dancing. At this point someone nominated Sam as chairman for the following year and also to be in charge of a committee to study the feasibility of a swimming pool, the dinner committee was also to assist on the swim committee. The committee for 1953 was: Sam Samuelson, Bill Buck, Charlie Gemberling, Jim Leaming, Bill Stretch, Dick Bean, Mat Oberholzer, Rick McMillan and Tom Marshall.
I’m sure that many people at that dinner party thought that the idea would just die a slow death. Not so – Dr. Samuelson was a very quiet, deep thinking, pipe-smoking, calm, cool and collected individual on the outside – but a bundle of dynamite on the inside.
Within two weeks Sam had called a committee meeting, and he let it be known that there would be a swim club built and that the nine of us were the ones that were going to see that it was done. For nine people whose names were just thrown out from the floor for a dinner committee it was just amazing that we turned into a group of directors who could all think alike, work together, everybody pulling their weight, no slackers. All successful businessmen with great demands on their times and energies, but hardly anyone missed a meeting, and there were many of them. I was the only member who did not belong to the Country Club. I believe that I had been selected by Bob Scarbrough as the “Token ____” from the Wedgewood section.
Swim Clubs were just beginning to flower around the countryside. There weren’t too many of them around and none in South Jersey, so Sam did some research, got the names of several in North Jersey and some in Delaware and personally went to visit their facilities and talk with their boards of directors.
His reports back to us, plus the opinions of Jim Leaming, Tom Marshall & Bill Stretch convinced the group that we really didn’t want a glorified backyard swimming hole. We wanted a first class swim club, a place where our children could not only learn to swim but, if they desired to, swim and dive competitively. Where the adults could enjoy themselves as well. So our whole concept changed, and we knew that with the money we were talking about we could no longer consider for membership just those people that were included in the “Hi-Neighbor Party” boundaries.
First order of business was to acquire a site which we wanted as close to the area as possible – Bob Scarbrough offered to us the property at the end of Oak Ridge Drive at the railroad, but this was rejected because of the traffic problems. Then Dr. Sam found out that the present site of Wedgewood was for sale. We all considered it the perfect spot. So Sam, on his own, made arrangements to purchase the property under his name and using his own money.
I believe that it was at this time that we approached Tom Bantivoglio to act as our legal counsel, which he accepted. (No fee, of course.) He incorporated Wedgewood Swim Club with the nine committee members as the original incorporates. Dr. Samuelson was President, Bill Buck 1st Vice President, and I’m ashamed that I’ve forgotten who the other officers were. Incorporation, of course, requires by laws and rules and regulations. Naturally, we did a lot of copying from other organizations that had already gone through this. There probably is a great deal of Tavistock Country Club in Wedgewood, but it took meeting after meeting before they were finally formalized.
Next we needed an architect and after considering many we chose Oren Thomas, who proved such a wise choice in utilizing the contours of the natural setting, he worked with pool companies and we settled with Viking Paddock. At this point too Joe Hail joined us in a consulting capacity as far as the food and snack bar facilities were concurred. Originally, our thinking was something similar to what exists now but with further facilities upstairs with the sun deck to be enclosed as a screened in, more formal dining area with waiter service. Joe convinced us that we would not get that kind of market, so we abandoned that.
Now we’re getting to the point where we need members to pay for this. Incidentally, we had already prepared a four-page brochure with artist’s conception of what that clubhouse would look like from the street looking in and from the diving area looking to the clubhouse and it’s amazing how close the conception was to actuality. Also bear in mind that all of this work, research, committee meetings, etc. has been done with no treasury, no petty cash – nothing – Dr. Samuelson still had his money tied up in the property. Many meetings were had relative to membership with all kinds of thoughts as to how to handle it in a smooth sales approach.
Here we are nine men out on a limb, ready to sign contracts for about $350,000 in buildings and equipment. We had talked to bankers who were giving us a lot of encouragement but it was our names on the articles of incorporation. First of all we decided to limit membership to 350 families, with first choice going to those families living in the territorial boundaries previously described. To these people we sent a notice of a meeting to be held at Tavistock Country Club on December 15 1955 at 8 P.M. announcing the opening of the membership of Wedgewood Swim Club. Bear in mind that this was no longer a secret project – all of our friends and neighbors knew that we have been wooing on this for some time. The board decided to Sa what kind of a response this opening meeting would have. Then for phases 2, 3, 4, 5,etc. we had a large map of Haddonfield zoned off in blocks, the next zone would be that from Warwick Road past Upland Way to (forgot what street) to the railroad. When that was exhausted we would proceed from the railroad down Centre Street to the railroad spur etc. Anyway, on the morning of December 15, 1955, my dear wife decided to become uncooperative and gave birth to my daughter, Kip.
After Kip was born and everything was under control, I went back to work, finished work, ran up to the hospital where Helen apologized for interrupting my schedule and insisted that I get up to the club. When I arrived there, It was chaos – You’ve seen movies of the depression when banks were going under and people were clamoring to get their money out of the bank. It was the same thing, only in reverse. The place was jammed and everyone was waving a check around demanding a membership certificate. I don’t recall how many certificates were sold that night, but that can be determined from the stock certificate book.
From that point on, life was chaotic for the board of directors. Our phones rang constantly. Every one o us had friends, doctors, fellow church members, etc. who lived outside the original geographic limits. An emergency meeting was called, and it was decided that we would accept applications from anyone who contacted us as individuals subject to the approval of the other members of three board as acceptable members, and all applications were to be time dated as well as date accepted. On New Years Eve, as we were not going out due to Kip’s arrival, I had five visitors come to my home with their applications and checks. By January 15th we had to inform people that they were now on a waiting list.
Now that we had all these members, they wanted to swim the following summer. So we immediately got to work engaging a contractor, planning a ground-breaking ceremony, the whole bit. We had our usual problems, right where the pool was to be was the foundation of an old barn that must have been two feet thick of concrete – much extra cost to remove – the discovery of a hidden spring house – a blessing. That winter required weekly board of directors meetings with meetings in between, but things progressed quickly and efficiently. Then came personnel problems. Through the efforts of Jim Leaming and his sports activities we secured the services of Jack McCloskey, the basketball coach of Penn to act as Manager and Wendell “Fuzzy Lomady”, a widely respected teacher of athletics, as our swim instructor and coach. Sylvia Buck (no relation to Bill) was to handle the food concession. She was a nutrition student from Cornell.
Lifeguards, maintenance, etc. personnel were no problem, as we were besieged with applications. We decided that all lifeguards would be teachers on summer vacation. As spring approached it became evident that the clubhouse would not be finished in its entirety, although not problem was expected with the pool and filter facility, so we instructed the contractor to concentrate his efforts on the lower level, so that we could at least open on time with dressing rooms, restrooms, and snack bar facilities available. One directors’ meeting that I had been most anxious to attend, but for some unknown reason (at this time) I was unable to. Up until this meeting all meetings had been held at the board members homes in alphabetical order. Take a minute to calculate the amount of booze that had been consumed at these meetings since the conception of the idea of Wedgewood.
This board meeting was the first one to be held on Wedgewood property. That morning the water had been turned on, and finally our efforts were bearing fruit. That big hole in the ground contained water. It probably took only a slight suggestion from one of the board, but it then became unanimous to go skinny dipping in the 12 foot area where sufficient water had been accumulated. It was dark and we had no fear of the neighbors. Memorial Day arrived and we were in complete readiness – entrance to the pool was through the gates by the kiddy pool. However, the best layed plans of mice and men were set aside by torrential rains the night before, it was a sickening sight to go down to the pool and find that the sod had literally been rolled up again on the bank, behind the kiddie pool (before there was a wall) there was mud all over the pool apron and in the pool at the five foot end.
Signs were posted “Pool Closed;” and everybody went to work and I mean everyone – the board of directors, their wives, kids employees, anyone we could get our hands on, and by the night we were ready to go again. That was the most wonderful season that Wedgewood ever had. There was never a complaint, always just a grateful membership pleased with everything. We ended the summer a healthier crew than we were at the beginning of the season. Sometime during the following fall, the board of directors found out that the farm between Wedgewood and the railroad was up for sale, realizing the our parking situation was far from adequate and that we had no room for any expansion. Although Wedgewood owns many acres they are located behind the club in low swampy unusable areas. The board decided that we should quietly acquire the property at a fair price through a third party.
Recognizing the fact that if the owners thought that Wedgewood was interested that the price would sky rocket. We did this knowing that it was against the by-laws to do so without getting the approval of the membership. By the time the deal was consummated I was the president. The board called a special meeting to announce our actions and, of course, I had the privilege of presiding. The very same people who were waving their checks at us with gratitude the previous year were after our throats, wanting impeachment, etc., because we were assessing a $50 fee to be added to their bond. I think that history has proved that it was one of the wisest things that was ever done at Wedgewood, but it also brings out some good points about human behavior.