Game was more abundant then, in 1940, pheasants and ducks both. And no doubt the noontime luncheons first organized on Wednesdays at Hymie Moses Backroom on Hennepin Avenue were just the venue for bragging about birds bagged. Or fish caught. Charter members of this outfit, the Fur Fin & Feather Club, were big talkers after all, led by a world champion talker, the cigar-chomping Jimmy Robinson.
So it was that the state’s oldest sportsman’s club was founded.
The club’s intent then, as now, never was to take a stand on conservation issues. Or to enmesh club members in politics. Instead this would be a social outfit, founded on the principle that fraternity once a week among hunters and anglers is a good thing, and if cigar smoke billowed in Hymie Moses Backroom on Wednesdays 75 years ago, and the odd bump and a beer were served, club members would think it swell, really swell, and would enjoy themselves. And each other.
So, too, on Wednesday evening, did current Fur Fin & Feather Club members enjoy themselves and each other at the American Legion in Osseo. The point was to celebrate the club’s 75th anniversary, and polka was among music that shook the rafters.
“This isn’t a hoity-toity outfit,’’ said Frank Calta, a 13-year Fur Fin & Feather Club member and its current co-president, along with John Hanson. “We have members whose stature would surprise you. We also have members with blue-collar backgrounds. The club isn’t about that. It’s about people who have one love and one thing in common: the great outdoors.’’
Calta, 69, is not a native Minnesotan. Rather, he grew up in New York, on Staten Island, which at the time was more island than city, flush with birds in its marshes, ducks among them.
“Everyone on the island back then had boats,’’ Calta said. “And there was hunting, good hunting. Yet from the highest point on the island, in the distance, we could still see the Empire State Building.’’
One hundred, that’s the size of the Fur Fin & Feather Club membership roll these days. Which is healthy. But it’s an aging bunch, ever aging, in part because it’s tougher now to find sportsmen in their 20s, 30s and 40s who have time to meet every week.
“People in that age group have jobs,’’ said Dick Alford, 76, a turkey hunting expert and, like Calta, a club kingpin. “They’re busy with their families, too. Coming to lunch every week is tough. Still, every year we pick up a few new members to replace those who pass on.’’
Once each month, a club outing is planned, sometimes to shoot trap or skeet, sometimes to chase pheasants at a hunting club, sometimes to float atop Minnetonka or another lake, bobbing for sunnies and crappies, even walleyes.
“That helps keep the club interesting,’’ Alford said. “What also keeps it interesting is that when we do meet for lunch, we have speakers. And they’re good. Some are from the DNR. Some are experts in hunting or fishing or conservation. They’re all informative.’’
Overnight, the club didn’t migrate from Hymie Moses Backroom on Hennepin Avenue to the Legion Club in Osseo. In between were stops at Earl Dutro’s joint, also on Hennepin, and the Covered Wagon. And on and on.
“From what I understand, all were very good places to eat,’’ Alford said.
Nowadays, the club averages about 40 members at its weekly luncheons, maybe 50 if the scheduled speaker is a hotshot who will talk about a hot topic. Mille Lacs is one such topic. Many club members are experienced on the big lake, with their own ideas about what ails its walleyes, and who’s to blame.
“But, again, we don’t take club positions on these issues,’’ Alford said. “Some of our members say that’s the reason we’ve survived for 75 years where other sportsmen’s clubs have not.
“What we do instead is try to educate ourselves on these and other matters. Then members can decide for themselves what actions they might or might not like to take.’’
Each week, at each meeting, the Pledge of Allegiance kicks things off, spoken not as an obligation but as a vow. A call of the roll follows, and the hope is that age hasn’t claimed anyone since the previous meeting.
Wednesday at the American Legion in Osseo, 135 members and their spouses celebrated the club’s diamond jubilee, including 93-year-old past president Clayton Erickson.
The food was great, the talk was big.
Just like 75 years ago at Hymie Moses Backroom on Hennepin Avenue.