History of the Belgian-American Association:
(As transcribed by Ms. Samantha Van Vooren, thanks Samantha!)
What we know today is the Belgian-American Association came to be in October of 1927. It came about in response to the fact that more men of Belgian descent were going into business for themselves and felt it might be useful to band together to help and promote each other. On October 20, 1927 at a banquet given by the Flemish-American League, a committee drafted by-laws and chose a name- Belgian-American Businessmen’s Association.
In November a banquet was held at Deutsches Haus. All Belgians involved in some form of business were invited. Eighty-four chose to join at that time. Charles Godderis, who was known as the father of the Belgian Clubs, became the first President. Three men, who would each later become president, were on the first board of directors-Peter Cortevulle, Adolph Damman, and Adolph Verdonct.
The B.A.B.M.A. began a series of social functions, i.e. dances, masquerades, excursions and contests to bring Belgians together. With the onset of the Depression, this became increasingly important. The organization made it a point of pride to help Belgians who were needy, so they would not have to go on welfare. The B.A.B.M.A. survived the Depression, and even though it took thousands out of its treasury to help the less fortunate, the club had enough money to take advantage of an opportunity when it found one. The Triple Link Hall became insolvent and the B.A.B.M.A. was able to purchase it in 1934. The hall was paid off in 1938; the renamed Belgian Hall became the social center of the Belgian community for 35 years.
During the 1930’s, the Belgian-American Band was formed under the sponsorship of the B.A.B.M.A.-a relationship that continues today, some 70 years later. In the first few years of the Band’s existence, the B.A.B.M.A. held parties, dances, contests and raffles to raise funds to buy instruments, uniforms, and music. The Band headed a group of Belgians that attended the Chicago World’s Fair and groups that visited various Belgians communities in the Midwest and Canada. Also, during the 1930’s, the club began a long tradition of putting on the Belgian Kermis, a picnic open to the whole community, which became a day long celebration with a band concert, athletic contests, food, beer and dancing. It was said that if there was someone in the Belgian community you hadn’t seen in a long while, go to the Kermis.
During the 1940’s, the U.S. was at war, and the B.A.B.M.A. was involved in blood drives and other activites related to the war effort. Also, at this time the club rented out part of the Hall to the Michigan Employment Security Commission. This provided a regular source of income which the club put to good use. After the war, returning servicemen were allowed to join the B.A.B.M.A. even if they weren’t in business. Also, during the early days of the B.A.B.M.A. businesswomen became members. Flavie Buyse, owner of Buyse’s Bakery, is listed among our deceased members,
By the 1950’s, the requirement that a member be a businessman had been done away with. The B.A.B.M.A. continued to grow and events like the joint meetings came into being. The Belgian Hall became the meeting place for many of the Belgian clubs, and the place where most of the activities took place.
The 1960’s brought changes to the neighborhood around the Belgian Hall and to our club. Many younger members also began to assume leadership positions, and many of the new post World War II Belgian immigrants were joining out club. The late 1960’s brought a couple of major changes to the B.A.B.M.A., first we gave up putting on the yearly Kermis. The manpower demands became too great for us to handle alone. A couple of incidents led to some of our tenants leaving the Hall and a split in our club.
In 1969, some members began a push to sell the Hall, which raised the ire of many older members who were involved in the original purchase. Eventually the Hall was sold in the early 70’s, as the changing the neighborhood did it in.
The major change that took place in the 1960’s involved the creation of our second adjunct body. Under the leadership of the President Al Vandenbergh Sr., the Retirees’ Club came into being. Feeling that our organization was not getting enough use out of our own Hall, this became a way to increase that use. Secondly, as more of our members aged and retired, they also had more time to participate. Thus, in 1966, was born one of our very popular associations.
The rising popularity of the B.A.B.M.A. created an interesting problem. We were getting to big! In the late 1960’s, a limit was placed on membership. It was caped at 500 and for the first time, our club had a waiting list.
A concern by one of our past presidents led to another change in our club, and once again, the B.A.B.M.A. was a leader in our community. Julian Vercruysse became concerned that we had numerous daughters of members who married non-Belgian men and lost contact with the Club, even though they didn’t want to. He proposed a by-law change that would allow a son-in-law of a member to join, even though he wasn’t of Belgian descent. In February of 1973, the first non-Belgian became part of our club. Since then, the by-laws have been further amended to allow any male married to a woman of Belgian descent, or the son of a Belgian mother, into membership. Our club benefited greatly by this change.
A group of wives of members of the B.A.B.M.A. decided that an organization of women that met at the same location on the same night, although in a different room, would provide a needed social outlet for them. So in 1973, the Belgian-American Businessmen’s Association Auxiliary began. To join, a woman must be married to a member of the Association. At meetings, after club business is attended to, an evening of cards or bingo follows. This provided a support group for the B.A.B.M.A., as well as a social outlet for the ladies, and they continue to be a valuable part of our organization. In 1973 we had also sold the Hall to Joe and Virginia Mack, and had moved our meeting location to the Blossom Heath on Jefferson near 10 Mile Rd., in St. Clair Shores. We were to stay there throughout the 70’s. Since we no longer ran the Kermis, we began to sponsor a Kermis using workers from many of the Belgian clubs. This continued for several years.
In the mid 70’s, there was a major change in the leader ship of the B.A.B.M.A. Again, younger men assumed leadership positions and changes took place. To reflect the reality the name was changed from the Belgian-American Businessmen’s Association to the Belgian-American Association. We also ceased to be a beneficial society. The death benefit was eliminated for all future members, and because earlier leadership had failed to notify the state when they increased the death benefit, we were forced to pay the members the increased benefit. We proceeded to do this at a rate of 5 members per month until all members were paid. Those who were members before 1973 still receive a $150 benefit upon their death. From this point on, the focus of the B.A.A. has been to provide social activities for its members.
The late 70’s and early 80’s found the club establishing bowling leagues and golf outings to increase social activities. The 80’s also saw the creation of our scholarship, which now provides $500 each to 3 recipients yearly. The 1980’s also saw another location change, this time to the Barrister Gardens on Harper at Stevens in St. Clair Shores.
Throughout the 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s, the B.A.A. has continued to be a leader in the Belgian community and in providing social activities.
Our motto is our belief-We Are Here To Stay-Join Us!