Times Change, But Memories Remain Forever

Times Change, But Memories Remain Forever
Wellington Pioneer John Herring On How A Fledgling Community Came Together To Build The Original Wellington Boys & Girls Club, Now Slated For Demolition

Story by John Herring  |  Photos by Frank Koester

This issue, Wellington The Magazine launches our year-long Wellington History feature series. This series will include the first-hand recollections of early Wellington pioneers who built the community we enjoy today. First up is longtime Wellington resident John Herring with his recollections of the creation of the original Boys & Girls Club on South Shore Blvd. Opening in 1986, it was the first facility offering organized recreational programs to young residents of the fledgling Wellington community. More than 10 years ago, the Boys & Girls Club moved to a new facility, and the original building that Herring and his pioneer compatriots struggled to bring into existence is in the process of being torn down, to make way for a new sports training facility.

When I heard that the old Boys & Girls Club building on South Shore Blvd. was going to be torn down and the park renovated, it was with a nostalgic mindset that I wanted to write something down to preserve the history and value that place had in the makings of Wellington. Once it is gone, I hope there can be a place for the pictures and the stories that happened right there on that site.

Let’s go back to the early days of Wellington. It was designed to almost be a retirement community. Golf courses, clubhouses and tennis courts were the norm. The Acme Improvement District was the governing entity, run by the developer and its managers — and they had a problem. Young married folks were buying right along with the retirees. And the young folks very quickly outnumbered the old folks. Meanwhile, there were no ball fields or soccer fields. In fact, there were no public recreation locations at all; there were not even any schools in Wellington yet.

With about 1,500 folks living here, and sales going wild, kids were everywhere. And they were playing soccer on polo fields and baseball in empty lots. Parents were the organizers, the field maintenance crews, the keeper of all sports gear, and collection agency for all fees to play tee-ball. No one was in charge. So, through the Rotary, Exchange and Lions clubs, all fundraisers were focused on these kids’ needs.

Then Gould Florida, the developer, sold the land to the Vadia family, known as Corepoint. The first thing they did was construct entrances as you see them today. Fountains defining the entity “Wellington.” In the meantime, a not-for-profit was formed called YAW, which stood for Youth Activities of Wellington. That became the clearing house for charity funds, sports fees and management control of the burgeoning sporting activities for local youth. However, it was struggling to keep up with growth and needs.

In short, conversations were on the table with Acme about this problem before the Vadia family arrived. So, when the fountains went up, many asked, why can’t they (Corepoint, the new developer) spring for a building and ball fields? It is in their best interest if they want to sell houses! Luckily, the Vadias and Corepoint’s George de Guardiola were baseball born and bred. They loved baseball and kids’ sports.

First there was a need for land, then a building to store and keep equipment, parking, maintenance, upkeep and all that stuff. The result? Acme, the Palm Beach County Commission, the developer, YAW and almost the entire community sat down and solved the problem.

In the agreement, the county donated the land, Acme would own it and maintain it on the tax rolls, and partner with the developer to build it and pay for it.

But the caveat was the Vadias were requiring a nationally recognized entity to be the manager of the programs. Their directive was that there had to be a solid organization behind this investment. So given that task, we embarked on investigating all programs that fit that bill. It came down to the YMCA or the Boys Club of America. However, seeing that the Vadia boys, Ricardo and Alberto, and George de Guardiola from Corepoint, all grew up at the Boys Club in Miami, it made an obvious first choice.

What is now the South Shore ball fields at Wellington’s Community Park, formerly where the Boys & Girls Club used to be, had its first concept of becoming a reality. I was tasked with making it happen, as a volunteer, and as a member of several Acme committees. I was chair of the Operations Review Committee that set the assessment rates based on spending and budgets, so whatever happened here expense wise, I was accountable.

Next, we needed to design the facility. A young architect named Tom Leiptian was convinced to design the land and building for very little. H&T, Harry Rusbridge and Jim Teets, were building polo fields right across the street. They OKed us donating fuel and paying in beer to operators to clear the land. (No permits were required back then… It was county property controlled by Acme and no one was asking!) The building grew three times larger than we were told to make it, and away we went. We made that facility for about one-tenth what it should have cost. I am recalling about $400,000. Obviously, it was an easy sell, with all of us doing the right thing for the right reasons.

At opening, it was decided it would be a Boys & Girls Club, one if not the first in Florida, joining the downtown Boys Club. As a matter of fact, the daughter of Mary Brink, who worked for Gould, was issued member 001. My son, John Korbet Herring, was member 002. A girl, then a boy. That was significant!

That building entertained local youth through its programs, run by none other than Victor Rivera. If folks only knew how many innings were played on those fields, how many first-time home runs, fly balls caught, runs scored and friendships made between parents and kids alike. Victor was an avid environmentalist who taught kids the meaning of preserving our canals and waterways, and it was he who spent time with kids cleaning canals of debris. Children did their homework there and got help when they struggled with math.

The early days of Wellington looked nothing like it does today. It was programs like this — with the developer, government and private volunteers working together — that made the difference, and I know we did make a difference in how Wellington turned out today. I am very proud to say, I was a small part of making this happen. It will be sad to see our building gone, but it is progress. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County and across Florida and the nation are thriving and continue making a difference in the lives of the children of today, and the leaders of tomorrow.