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Radio Script

2/23/1942

This is the description of the radio script.

 

Fenton’s Community Center Program
Radio Broadcast, Station WKAR
February 24, 1942
William C. Morse

Years of work in most communities seldom yields as fortunate a situation as that in the town under discussion today. This does not mean that there was no problem and no planning; for the program rests on careful study of how best to meet the needs of a typical American community. The wise spending of a sizable fund involves great difficulty in planning. If you drive north about forty miles from Ann Arbor on Route 23, you will come to the town of Fenton. It is a thriving community of some 3400 people serving a rural area as well a five-mile radius. But it is not quite a typical community for many reasons. Probably, if you were to ask the local chamber of commerce, they would raise claims rivaling those of California. The school people would tell white fine educational institutions Fenton has, and the ministers what fine churches. But in all probability the average citizen from knee-pants to gray beard would not stop there. In addition to the things which many communities have, Fenton has a community program which provides exceptional opportunities for everybody. It’s a really honest down-to-earth program, which has as a focal point a community building to be envied by the whole state. As we tell the story, think in terms of your own town, what such a program would mean to you, what aspects of this program could be realized in your own town.

The building is the Fenton Community Center, a gift to Fenton from Mrs. Horace H. Rackham. She was a former resident of the community. Her father once operated an implement shop on the site of present community building. She had an understandable attachment to her home community. On October 3, 1938, the $200,000 endowment of the Horace H. and Mary A. Rackham Fund was presented to the village of Fenton at an informal meeting. The donors wished to implement the future welfare of Fenton with a center for the promotion of leadership, good morals, better health, educational advancement, recreation, social enjoyment and civic improvement. This is a Utopian job which, of course, cannot be fulfilled in haste without an unusual degree of participation from the Fenton people. But the gift to the town was planned with great care so that it would make a real contribution to the happiness of the whole community.

The work was begun in 1937, and the building was opened to the public in the autumn of the following year. The modern two-story building has the excellent lines and clean appearance that only the best of modern architecture gives. Inside it is well equipped and beautifully decorated. It is surrounded by three acres of beautifully landscaped grounds, sloping gently toward the river, with courts for tennis, horseshoes and shuffleboard. There is an outdoor fountain and smoothly rolling turf. If you could somehow compare this with what used to be there, it would give you cause to pause and think, for it talks. This three-acre playground and park occupies what was the old city fire hall, a mill, several stores, and a city dump.

The building and grounds cost about one quarter of a million dollars and an endowment of $135,000 supplies part of the funds necessary for the program and upkeep. The center must raise about $2500 to finish out each year’s budget. This is raised through renting the building facilities to local and out-of-town organizations. People from eight adjacent towns use its facilities and participate in its program. People from Flint contribute to the majority of rent each year as they use the building for dances and dinners. There are two clubs rooms seating up to fifty, an office, a recreation room accommodating 150 and a large auditorium seating 500. Of course there is a stage and the necessary dressing rooms.

The management of the Center rests on the hands of seven local citizens the Board of Governors. Its diversified program of social, educational, and recreational activities is carefully designed to meet the needs and interests of all age groups in the community. A salaried director, Mr. Russell Haddon, enlists the assistance of 40 volunteer leaders in planning and conducting the program.

The philosophy which rules the Fenton center is one of practicing democracy. It is intended that the community center and its programs should be used by everyone in Fenton and its rural surroundings, regardless of the individual’s social, economic, or religious position. “Fenton community means all of us in Fenton,” is the way they express it. The Center allows no closed organizations to operate in its name. All organizations sponsored by the center are open to the public without membership fees. Naturally, there are some events where a charge is made to support the activity, such as lectures, dinners, and dances, but any person in the Fenton area is eligible for community membership by merely registering and getting his membership card.

Big town or little town, community center or no, the one pressing problem is leadership. How does the center keep its ambitious program going without a huge budget for paid leaders? The credit goes to some forty volunteer leaders who have the responsibility for the program. Of course group members assist in every kind of activity. The Center always welcomes new leaders who volunteer their time and skills to promote the happiness of the whole community.

The help the over-all organization of the community, Fenton organized a community council some time ago. This group is made up of representatives of all Fenton organizations to combine their influence and energies in meeting and solving community problems. Dedicated to make Fenton awake to its needs and energetic in providing for those needs, all meetings are open and anyone may take part. Every year, in addition to the community calendar which lists all the clubs and events in the town, the council undertakes several specific projects of general civic interest. A specific committee has general supervision of the community’s recreational activities.

A council of social agencies, representing twenty-five groups, coordinates social work. This prevents unnecessary duplication in giving help to those in need. Clothing and furniture are collected, stored, and distributed by the group.

The community center offers as another of its specific services an employment center. This free utility provides odd-time, part-time, and full-time jobs for students and adults. The office is now affiliated by special arrangement with the Michigan State Employment office in Flint.

There are at present twenty-six activities under way and new ones are organized as the demand arises. In addition there are a great many special activities ranging from art exhibits, needlecraft shows, The Messiah Concert, the farm festival, and special dances and dinners. Fenton’s programs make a definite effort to administer to the spiritual, educational, and recreational phases of community life.

We can describe a few of these is some detail to give you an idea of the opportunities offered when a community wakes up and begins to make an effort to provide the services people want. The current world affairs lectures are a series of eight a year. A discussion follows, and some of the people get together once a week to follow up some of the points raised at the general meeting. Men from the campus at the University of Michigan gave the talks.

The community chorus is one of the high spots in Fenton’s program. The director holds a music degree and post-graduate credit from Oberlin, which indicates how far removed it is from amateurishness even though it is a group of non-professionals. The chorus plays a major part in three community signs in addition to presenting two concerts and an opera. Both men and women take part.

Fenton people are very much interested in the out-of-doors and in outdoor activities. There is a garden club for adults interested in their own lawns and wishing to learn more about flowers. They end the season with a flower show each year. There is a hiking group open to all over 18 years of age. Their hikes average about four miles and are usually followed by an outdoor supper. There are moonlight hikes, summer hikes and winter hikes, every other Sunday afternoon. The Izaak Walton League, in cooperation with the Center, sponsors a series of travel talks with movies and slides of various parts of the world. Of course there are various courts, a summer and winter recreation program, swimming and the team games for all ages. They start with what are called Tot-Lots for very small children, and have indoor and outdoor sports for young people and adults. Fishermen can join the fly-tying club to learn the arts of bait-making and fly-casting.

There are sports for everybody, but Fenton does not consider sports everything, for they have a full share of less strenuous activities as well. There are educational classes in public speaking, preliminary procedure, and book reading. Special groups are interested in rug weaving, knitting, sewing and handicrafts. Fenton, like other American communities, has felt the resurgence of old-time folk dances and added them to the already frequent social dance programs. Health education and home economics are represented by study groups.

It may be, when you are passing through Fenton, you will hit upon a night when the Fenton Players are giving one of their performances. Not content with producing both comedy and serious work, this group spends time studying the theatre and the related techniques.

We started out by saying that Fenton is a community of rural and townsfolk. In addition to joining in activities already mentioned, the farm men have special classes in problems which they feel in need of studying. The soils, truck gardening and dairy courses are given as needed. Speakers from Michigan State College are often available for special subjects.

So far we have said little about the youth association and youth program. They take advantage of the employment service, the recreational program and community parties. A branch of the University of Life meets on Sunday nights under the joint sponsorship of Protestant and Catholic churches. Young people, of course, have their own clubs and special groups as well.

There is one thing more that we should mention before we close. That is the Preparation for Marriage class led by one of the ministers. The churches have viewed with alarm the rising tide of divorces in America. In Fenton they do not believe in stopping with the study of marriage relations; a community that wants sound family living, which in turn means better adjusted children as well as adults, must educate to that end. The Marriage classes server as a clinic, discussing with careful thought questions of family management, family income, and other common family problems.

As is the case with many communities, many new families are moving in to make their homes in Fenton. So the Community Council established a Hospitality Service to remedy the lonely feeling and bring about an acquaintance with Fenton’s many activities. Each new family is reported to the center, and a neighborhood member of the Hospitality Committee calls on the new family. The committee member leaves a copy of a booklet describing the center, the clubs, the political officers, the churches, and other information about the community.

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150 South Leroy Street
Fenton, MI 48430
Phone: 810-629-2512
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