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History

The History Of Sarasota Sertoma

By Bob DesRochers, Club Historian

Organization

The Greater Sarasota Sertoma Club was sponsored by the St. Petersburg Sertoma Club, and was chartered in January of 1956, with 53 members. Sarasota attorney Thomas F. Icard was elected as first president, with John H. Taylor, local building contractor, serving as first vice-president. Many prominent members of the Sarasota community became members of the Club, including Bob Angers, Ralph Farrell, Jr., Dick Tesar, Cam Wilson, Clay Gardenhire, Ben Brown, Dick Sparrow, Dr. Harry Specht, Dick Taylor, and many others. All of these men will be remembered as leaders in their respective professions, as well as leaders in their community, during the decades from the 50’s thru the 90’s.

During its formative years, the new club was very active in fundraising. In fact, in 1956, Sertoma provided over half of the funds in the county of Sarasota’s Cancer Fund Drive. They achieved this through their Cancer Fund Charity Ball. This ball became an annual event, and in 1957 they added a car raffle for a 1957 Chevy Bel Air.

In July of 1957, many wives of Sertoma got together to organize a La Sertoma Club. This organization held separate meetings and had their own fundraisers and sponsorships, but they were also very involved in the activities of Sertoma. They were known primarily for their fashion shows, but they were also instrumental in presenting a play, “The Drunkard”. This play was put on as a fundraiser and ran for four nights. The entire production, and most of the acting, was done by Sertomans and their wives.

The La Sertoma group continued as a sister organization until well into the 1970’s, when family traditions changed, and the advent of two breadwinners in the family so decimated their ranks that the group decided to disband.

Speech & Hearing

Early on, since our national organization had taken on as their primary goal, the recognition and treatment of speech and hearing disorders, our Club got involved in that area. On September 16, 1959, the first Sertoma Speech and Hearing Clinic was chartered as a non-profit corporation. It opened for service in the Sarasota County school system’s Special Services building on School Avenue, on November 17, 1959. The first speech therapists employed by Sertoma included Mrs. Marcia Tesar, wife of charter member Dick Tesar, and Charles Bie, who later became a charter member of the Breakfast Sertoma Club.

The clinic remained in the school system’s building until February of 1962, when it was moved to a renovated house at 2850 Hillview Street. That home had been purchased by the Greater Sarasota Sertoma Club in 1961, and was renovated as a speech clinic by the Club’s members, led by John A. Hartenstine, a local contractor. In 1966, the house was sold and the clinic was moved back onto school grounds. Around that same time, a new speech therapist, Mrs. Stanley Gaye, was hired, and she directed the program for the next twenty or so years. In 1985, under the leadership of Jim Dean, the clinic was moved to a site at the First Presbyterian Church, and Mrs. Barbara Keys was hired as our speech therapist. The clinic continues under her care at that same site today.

Sponsorships

Over the years, our Sertoma Club has been involved with a number of major sponsorships, in addition to our Speech & Hearing Clinic. The first of these was a pledge in 1969 of $25,000 to help fund the gym at the (then) new Boys’ Club (now Boys’ & Girls’ Club) on Fruitville Road. In recognition of our efforts, a plaque was placed over the entry to the gym, indicating Sertoma’s gift.

In recent years, the Club has donated $50,000 to initiate and fund the first two years of operation of the First Sound program at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. We also donated $40,000 to build a cottage at the Dream Oaks Swamp Camp of the Foundation for Dreams in Bradenton. In addition, we have made major donations to All Childlren’s Specialty Care of Sarasota, the Silverstein Ear Research Foundation of Sarasota, The Florida Center for Child and Family Development, Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy, and the Sertoma Speech & Hearing Foundation of Florida, Inc.

Fund Raising

In order to fund our various sponsorships and grants, we have held numerous events. During the early years, the primary fundraisers included the aforementioned balls and fashion shows. In the 50’s, we also sponsored a number of events at the Municipal Auditorium, including a performance of “Li’l Abner”, Arthur Treacher in a one-man show called “Back to Methusela”, and an appearance of Stan Kenton and his orchestra.

In the early 60’s, two of our members, Chuck Stewart and Ed Straka, organized what was known as “Radio Day”. We were given the gratis use of radio station WSAF for a day. Prior to the big day, we sold ads, and on the appointed day, we took over the radio staion. Club members did all the announcing, with Ed as DJ, and various members touting the ads. We also sponsored the Harlem Globetrotters, who appeared annually at Robart’s Arena, and for many years were one of our primary fundraisers.

In the 70’s and 80″s our primary fundraisers involved the running of tennis tournaments. That started with a single tournament, which evolved into quarterly tournaments, capped off by a grand slam tournament, involving all the winners of the quarterly ones. We also were commissioned as program sellers for the LPGA tourney at Bent Tree Country Club. In addition, we sponsored a number of performers at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, including Paul Harvey (the only fund raiser at which we actually lost money), Art Buchwald, the Kingston Trio, and the Sammy Kaye Orchestra. We were also involved in the sale of Christmas trees. These went on for a number of years and were always fun, but the long hours and the ever-present problem of tree theft, convinced us to look for greener pastures. In the 90s, brainstorming led the Club into starting new fund raising events, such as the golf tournament, garage sale, art auction and fishing tournament. At this time we continue with the golf and fishing tournaments, and have recently added the roast of a well-known Sarasota personality.

New Clubs

Part of the mission of Sertoma is to extend the spirit of our national organization by building other clubs. As a result of the efforts of members of the Greater Sarasota Sertoma Club, a number of additional clubs have been chartered. These include the Bradenton Club, Fort Myers Club and Venice Club. A few other clubs were chartered, including the Breakfast Club, Evening Club and Women’s Club. The latter clubs were in existence for a number of years, but for various reasons decided to disband, and the remaining active members were merged into our noon club.