Wisconsin Snobird Club - A history of the first 20 years, 1985 - 2005

Gulf Shores/Orange Beach has been an attraction to Wisconsin people predating Hurricane Frederic’s visit to its’ shores in September 1979. Stories told by Irv and Audrey DeMott, Michael O’Rourke, and Rita Spangler relate to what a very undeveloped area it was when they made their first visits here. Irv said that there were no public facilities such as restrooms, etc. where one could change into swimming gear - only an abandoned auto body. Highway 59 consisted of a partially graveled road connecting with Foley, where you had to go for groceries. There was a wooden bridge across the canal which would have to be in a closed position if you wanted to make the trip. The Gulf Shores area had about 100 small summer homes when Frederic arrived, but only 4 remained the next day. Mike stated that he was staying in Pensacola when he made his first visit to the area and it was difficult driving because it was littered with debris from the storm. Rita and Byron Spangler first visited the area in 1979 and stayed in their RV. They took a job with the Orange Beach Tourist Center, helping in their office. Orange Beach was only a small fishing village at that time.

The early ‘80s found an influx of development concerns whom built commercial buildings and rental housing. Along with these developments there also came more and more people from Wisconsin, most of whom were staying from January thru March. Small groups, in a given area, started to get together to visit, for coffee, or just to keep in touch with someone from “back home.” In 1982, Rita and Byron bought a time share unit in the “Paradise Isle” complex on West Beach Blvd. Lani Kai, Los Palmos and Sea Breeze were all adjoining guest units with numerous Wisconsin guests whom soon decided to get together weekly for coffee and donuts at the “Dairy Queen” restaurant on Windmill road. This was one of the original commercial businesses in Gulf Shores. The size of the group soon out numbered the space available, and management asked them to move on. Other familiar names in the original group were Will and Evelyn Philaja, Clarice and Warren Andre, Robert and Jackie Douglas, Lloyd and Mary Kirchman, and Richard and Ruth Kolstad. This group now numbered about 16 to 20 and they decided to meet weekly at Mikees.

In the mean time there were another group of Wisconsinites who were very active and also decided to have a weekly coffee and donut get-together. They placed an ad in the local paper stating that they would meet at “Yo Yo’s Yougurt,” which could accommodate about 40 people. Seventy people showed up for the event and so it was decided that the two groups would merge as one and would become the Wisconsin Snobird Club. The Club organized in 1989 and the first officers were as follows:

  • Jan Olday of Mt. Horeb, President
  • Hazel Herman, Secretary
  • Ken Hoffman, Treasurer

The membership was listed as 40 members. A former Michigan and Wisconsinite, Michael O’Rourke, came to live in Orange Beach in 1992 and a new slate of officers were listed for the Club. Michael showed good leadership skills and soon the Club named a new slate of officers. Namely:

  • Michael O’Rourke, President
  • Hazel Herman , Secretary
  • Jan Olday, Vice President
  • Ken Hoffman, Treasurer

The membership now had increased to 200 and the American Legion Club in Gulf Shores became the meeting place. In 1997 Irv DeMott became Club President and held the position thru 2000, when Ken Krouse was elected President. In 2000 the Club, because of the large number of members, had to move once again, and chose to meet at Wolfe Bay Lodge in Miflin. By 2003, the Club membership had grown to 300, so large that another move had to be made. Michael O’Rourke received permission from the Orange Beach Mayor, Steve Russo, to make the Orange Beach Community Center available to the Wisconsin Snobird Club for a meeting place.

The Club has always been blessed good leadership and so it was in 1989 when Bruce LeGrande (from Mosinee) proposed the idea that it would be nice if the Club terminated its annual Winter Stay with a picnic, an event that now 20 years later still takes place. The first 4 years it was called the International Picnic because there were Canadian vacationers also included. For the first 4 years the picnic took place in the Pavilion at the State Park, but because of the wind and blowing sand it was decided to move to Lake Shelby Park the 5th year. When the Club was told they would have to pay for the use of that facility they decided to hold it in the Lady of the Gulf Catholic Church Parish meeting Hall in 1993 and 1994. Since then and to date is held in the Clubs’ meeting place.

The acceptance by the local people in the first years left a little to be desired. However, as time went by and the economic effect to the area was recognized by businesses, “Welcome Back Snobird” signs started to appear. In 1991 thru 1992 the Club decided to participate in the annual Mardi Gras Parade and to promote their home state of Wisconsin. Floats and banners along with “handouts” were thrown and distributed and with as many as 50 Club members marching in the parade. This participation ceased after we were told that we should participate only as spectators because this is a “Southern” event.

Organization of a musical group by Warren Andre, Merton Mueller and others in the early years was greatly appreciated by Club members, and dances and dinners were held where they preformed. Club golf outings and being able to negotiate favorable green fees by the Club added just another reason why it was beneficial to be a Club member.

In the early 1990s, now that the Club had ample space, it was decided that there would be an annual Club Pot Luck Dinner. The culinary skills of Wisconsin cooks soon became evident by the variety of ethnic foods and desserts that appeared for the dinner. This event has become a tradition ever since. Tours*, organized by the Club for its members, proved to be well accepted and appreciated.

The annual “Brat Fry,” a Wisconsin “happening” was introduced to the area by the Club and has proven to be very well accepted. All the proceeds from this event are designated to be given to the local Fire/Rescue Organizations of Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, and Fort Morgan for equipment purchases.

Charitable help, both fiscal and physical has always been great by Club members, and the communities have acknowledged this help. There has been dramatic growth in both Gulf Shores and Orange Beach cities, as well as in the membership and “doings” of the Wisconsin Snobird Club in the past 20 years and we look forward to its continuing.