Wisconsin Chow Chow Club
Vicki DeGruy, Secretary

The suggestion to write a history of the Wisconsin Chow Chow Club for this issue of Chow Life took me on an interesting and kind of sad journey through the past.  Sad because so many people who might be able tell me about the club's early days are gone now and because so many of the club's earliest records appear to be lost.  Nevertheless, going through what we do have was interesting and fun, providing a glimpse into times that often brought far different challenges than what we face today.

Some of you may know that Dr. JoAnne O'Brien was born JoAnne Schmidt and grew up in Chicago.  One of the first items I discovered when I opened the box of old Wis CCC material was an undated letter to WCCC from her father, H.P. Schmidt offering a gold plated trophy, value $3.00, to the club's upcoming specialty.  He apologizes for the last minuteness of the donation because his family was currently in quarantine because son Paul had scarlet fever! (Paul recovered) 

WCCC was incorporated in 1936, making it one of the oldest regional clubs still active today.  However, the first minutes I have are from December, 1938, meeting held at the club house at Jacobus Park, Wauwatosa.  Rental of the club house was $5.00 duly paid after a motion passed to do so.  There was no list of attendees provided, although a number of names appear of which I recognize few. The backside of the typed minutes page contains 3/4's of a page of illegible pencil scribblings sprinkled with a few names and amounts.  The minutes note that the "business part of the meeting was cut short because of the party planned for the balance of the evening" and a buffet supper.  Obviously, the socialness and importance of eating well at our meetings has a long tradition!  The minutes state the following meeting, January 5, 1939, would involve a card party with members asked to "pledge one table of four at 50 cents a person", proceeds to go to the show fund.  

The next minutes we have are from April 1939, meeting held at the Knickerbocker Hotel on Lake Michigan in Milwaukee.  The hotel is still there.  Although meetings appear to have been held monthly, we have very few minutes. This is the only one on hand for that year.  The club's treasury held $36 in the general fund and $181 in the show fund.  There was interest in outreach as there was a discussion about obtaining dog license records from city hall in order to locate more Chow owners.  

March 1940's meeting was also at the Knickerbocker, where Dick Hoffman (who you might recognize as the breeder of CH Yang Fu Tang) read a letter "received from the editor of the new Chow Chow Magazine.  It was suggested that a list of our members be forwarded to receive a sample copy."  Five new members were welcomed into the club at that meeting and Mr. Hoffman and Perry Williams presided over a Chow Q&A session.  

Regarding the new Chow Chow Magazine, at the next meeting, "it was suggested by the president that a letter of thanks be sent to the American Chow Chow magazine editors for their kindness in sending copies of their publication to all our members.  Also that as many members as possible subscribe to this worthwhile magazine."  

At that meeting also, it was decided to hold the WCCC specialty as designated classes with the Wisconsin KC in August, expenses to the club would only be the trophies and judge. I'm guessing this may have been the beginning of the club's custom of designated specialties rather than standalones.  In July 1940, it was decided to take $35 from the show fund to cover trophies, judge, and "any other expenses".  $35 !!  There were 34 entries for that 1940 specialty.  

The October 1940 minutes (handwritten as were most of them for the next few years) report that a motion to provide subscriptions to the American Chow Chow magazine be given as future trophies was tabled while "an effort to ascertain the status of the publication was to be made".  As we know, that magazine was rather short lived.  Another interesting bit was that a motion was made to donate a trophy to "the Chicago club for their show but an agreement could not be reached so the club will not make this gesture."  (In subsequent years, trophies were indeed donated to Mid-States for both their matches and their specialties.)  Our specialty's entry in 1942 was 22.  In 1943, it appears that meetings moved from the hotel to members' homes.  

I've no idea what brought this on as minutes tend to not to be detailed but the January 1944 election of officers was postponed until the next meeting the following month.  However, in March, President Richard Hoffman (Yang Fu kennels) who had served in that capacity off and on for several years, "spoke to us regarding the informal manner in which our meetings and elections had been held."  At his suggestion, a motion was passed to strike the February election from the records and hold a re-election, after which Mr. Gene Zielsdorf was elected President.  Again, I have no idea what brought what on, but in April, the secretary-elect tendered her resignation and the club voted not to accept it.  Eventually it was agreed to let her go as she wished, and a new secretary was installed.  

June 1944 shows how much membership had fallen off during the war years, as those minutes had a list of only 9 attendees.  Times must've become rather hard later that year as a motion was made at the August meeting to assess $1.00 from each member to help cover expenses for that fall's specialty.  To show how different attitudes were back then, a fundraising suggestion made at the November meeting was to raffle a puppy.  That meeting marks the first mention of Wallace and Winifred Kasten, Fu King kennels in Watertown, as a suggestion was made to invite them to join the club.  Mrs. Kasten was influential in the beginnings of several Wisconsin Chow breeders such as Mae Palm.

No meetings were held again until April, 1945 when only 7 members in attendance.  Similar to many clubs today, WCCC was struggling.  It was suggested to continue as they were, trying to keep interest in Chows alive "so that we would be ready to have shows again with the war is over and so we could keep our charter."  Dues for 1945 were waived.  

In September 1947, membership had risen to 12 and the treasury had a cash balance of $14.00, this after loaning $10 to the "Central States" CCC to help with their upcoming specialty in Indianapolis.  Somehow the treasury grew to $45 by December.  However, in January 1948, the bills for the previous specialty came due, leaving the club in the red.  Members were asked to kick in to cover the deficit.

Minutes do not resume until 1956 and then are very few and far between.  I can't tell if there were just no meetings or if they only held one a year to elect officers.  In 1960, Ernie Shook's name appears (Fu San kennels and Dan's dad) as a board member.  Richard Hoffman was still active in the club, and Mr. and Mrs. Shook had become 1st Vice President and Secretary/Treasurer during the next election.  A discussion on raising dues to $3.00 was tabled.  

In January 1962, the treasury contained a whopping $1.55.  A motion by Ernie Engberg to raise dues to $3.00 passed this time.  This meeting's minutes contains the first mention I find of Ernie and also Harold Toudt who were both elected to the board.  March, 1963, saw 22 members in the club and $17.00 in the treasury.  Richard Hoffman was made an honorary member.  The Waukesha Kennel Club sought WCCC's support toward their first all breed show.  In September, WCCC club member and judge Mrs. Josef Schroetter, judged Golden State's specialty in California.  The March 1964 meeting mentions Richard Gandt elected to the board of directors; the Gandts operated Kan King kennels that provided foundation stock for Palms' kennel.  In 1964, according to election minutes, the club had 3, count 'em, 3 vice presidents and a corresponding secretary as well as the recording secretary.  

June 1964 minutes refer to the meeting as "semi-annual" and treasury had grown to $21.00.  (the $3 dues must've been helpful)  By February 1965, the club's membership was growing again.  President Mrs. Schroetter had passed away and Ernie Shook was elected.  

The May 1965 meeting is significant in that a resolution was passed:  "The Wisconsin Chow Chow Club, Inc. recognizes that Hip Dyplacia [sic] is a serious problem which does occur in the Chow Chow breed and that steps should be taken to prevent further spread of this crippling and painful condition." As some of you might know, WCCC members were leaders in encouraging hip dysplasia screening, led by Adie Toudt who made it the main focus of the rest of her Chow-oriented life.  Thirteen of the first seventeen Chows certified free of HD were owned or bred by WCCC members.  

Today's WCCC members might be interested to know that our post-meeting tradition of "Brags & Bitches" began in 1966 at the suggestion of Ernie and Mary Lou Engberg.  As explained in a letter to the membership that year, "The 'Brag Bag' will make it possible for all to hear your interesting experiences; in fact you will be heartily encouraged to tell about your Chows AFTER you have deposited 10 cents in the 'Brag Bag'."  Fifty three years later, the "Brag Bag" is a battered old envelope held together with tape (it has sentimental value since it belonged to Harold Toudt when he was treasurer) that gets passed around at the end of each of our meetings and is pretty much our main source of income these days.  

By 1970, Harold Toudt was President and wrote quite detailed newsletters to the membership (not surprising if you knew Harold). Meetings were much more frequent. The club boasted 42 members then including several from the Chicago area like Carmen (Buddy) Greco, Skyway Chows.  Balloting for officers that year was done by mail and counted by a committee.  (remarkably formal for such a small club, I think)  There appears to have been some concern from an unnamed member about the legality of soliciting new members from Illinois and went so far as to contact the state Attorney General's office about it; they were informed there was no rule against it and it's all up to the club.  Things got more complicated in the club that year with some new and larger committees and a parliamentarian (Ernie, who else?). Still not rich, though, the club's treasury that fall was only $79.57.  

1971 marked the move of our specialty from the Wisconsin KC in Milwaukee to the Badger KC in Madison where it remained, with a couple exceptions, until 1995. Encouraging the move was the high cost of exhibiting in Milwaukee:  $3 parking, $8 entry fee, $1.75 admission, $2 catalog.  Another committee was appointed that year, the Hospitality Committee, consisting of "any member exhibiting at any given Wisconsin area show" with duties "to welcome non-members to the area shows".  The January 1971 newsletter mentions that Betty Mae Sewards, Ky-Lin Kennels, had suffered a serious fire at her home and the club sent her a $25 donation.  

Fast forward to 1976 when Kathy Lee Porter (aka Kathy Beliew, Imagine Chows) and Bambi Lay (aka Bambi Walden, VIP Chows) joined the club.  Ernie Engberg was on a mission to get a national specialty held in Madison.  He got his wish in 1977 when WCCC hosted its first national. Percy Whitaker from England judged 104 entries, putting up English-bred, Canadian-owned, CH Hanoi Tiko Topper for BOB. The club's treasury in January '77 was $123.75, a number that would barely pay for a major trophy at a national today. WCCC would go on to host 3 more national specialties: 1989, 1995, and 2008.

Tom and Shirley Skelton joined the club in 1978 which makes them our highest seniority active members.  Kim and Eric Johnsen joined in 1979.  As Chows began taking off in popularity then, so did club membership.  We had 49 members that year!  

In 1979, the club's treasurer disappeared taking the checkbook and bank balance with her. If you've been reading closely so far, you'll remember that, fortunately in this case, our treasury was never very large. A new treasurer was appointed and a new account created with a $23 collection of dues.  The Engbergs took care of some of the club's unpaid bills.  

1980 was the first year WCCC participated in the Wisconsin State Fair's World of Dogs exhibition which was a big "Meet The Breeds" type event.  This required the building of a booth, which became quite a major project over the next few years as the booth was intended to be competitive and needed updating and full redesign on a regular basis.  In 1988, the Club swapped participation in the State Fair for a similar but less labor intensive (and much less expensive) Wisconsin Dog Fair hosted by the Badger Kennel club in Madison.  We continue with that event today, only missing one year out of 30.  A "funsy" match was also held in 1980 with many silly classes and an obstacle course, and Kathy Porter hosted a Halloween party in the fall with prizes offered for Chow costumes.  

I think our club's activities and accomplishments since then have been pretty well documented in CHOW LIFE and its earlier incarnations so I won't go into them now.  But I found the first 40 years fascinating even in their sketchiness and hopefully you did, too.