A community leader has closed its doors, but that doesn’t mean it’s done helping.
The Third Ward Men’s Club, also known as the Third Ward Community Club, shut down earlier this year due to declining membership and the increasing costs of maintaining their building. However, in shutting down, the organization gave one more gift to the young people of the community, those it was sworn to aid. The club liquidated its assets and made sizable donations to several area youth organizations.
“All but six of us are over 75,” said member Victor Russo. “What do I need the money for? I’d rather give it to the kids.”
The club was founded by returning veterans in 1944. The men took over a former bunker located on Brookfield Road, moved it to Roxboro Road and expanded it.
Russo and his brother Anthony, the club’s president, had been part of the organization for 36 and 38 years, respectively.
“We knew the founders back in the 1960s when we were 175 members strong,” Victor Russo said. “There were waiting lists.”
But that boom eventually faded and the club began to shrink. “In this kind of organization, people pass on or get sick,” Russo said. “The younger generation’s not interested. We got down to just 20 members. Our only source of income was renting out the property on Fridays and Saturdays for weddings and things.”
Those rentals paid the bills and kept the club afloat for a few more years. However, soon the building, now more than 60 years old, began to fall apart.
“The roof went bad,” Russo said. “We got a grant from Assemblyman Bragman to fix that and refurbish the outside. In 2005, Assemblywoman Christensen got us another grant to refurbish the inside. But the sewer kept plugging up, and it was $200 to $300 every time we had to have someone take a look at it. Finally a company went in with a camera and told us the clay pipes were collapsing and it would cost $7,000 to $10,000 to replace it.”
The club called a special meeting and ultimately decided it was time to sell the property and shut down. At that meeting, they discovered that the bylaws required all proceeds from the sale of the property to benefit the kids in the Mattydale community. Gladly, the men in the Third Ward Men’s Club liquidated their assets and gave donations of $5,000 or $10,000 to the following groups: the Cicero CanTeen, the Mattydale-Hinsdale Little League, the Mattydale Vikings football team, the Mattydale Juniors (an organization for future firefighters), Roxboro Road school, St. Margaret’s school and Believer’s Chapel’s youth program.
The recipients of that money were elated to receive it.
“We do a lot with teenagers, so the $5,000 grant will help us a lot,” said Rich Ryson, youth pastor at Believer’s Chapel. “Our next event is a New Year’s Eve party. We provide a safe place to keep kids off the street, and they play basketball, volleyball, all kinds of games, there’s prizes and food and a lot of that. It’s our main event every year.”
Ryson said that the bulk of the money will be used to expand the church’s youth center. “We’re very excited,” he said. “They’re very nice, very giving guys.”
Jenna Ogden at the CanTeen agreed. “We are so beyond thrilled,” Ogden said. “The kids were just blown away. They were so ecstatic.”
Ogden said the $10,000 donation will go toward operating costs at the facility on Brewerton Road. The money will help the struggling organization stay open.
Ogden said she was impressed with the club’s knowledge of the organizations to which they donated. “They were good,” she said. “They knew what we did. They did their research. They knew what we were.”
Ogden said the CanTeen is planning a dinner for club members to show their appreciation.
As for the club building itself, Russo said the members sold it to Hollywood Theater owner Conrad Zurich for $75,000. Zurich plans to convert the space into a parking lot, but Russo said he thinks the main building will still stand.
“I hope it stays,” Russo said. “It will always be a symbol of us.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.