It’s an organization you don’t hear much about. You may see them at parades and other local events, handing out American flags or working quietly in the background at an annual picnic for the Second Precinct cops. They’re kind of like the Shriners, except they don’t wear funny hats.
Since 1955, they’ve met for lunch on a weekly basis in a Northeast restaurant. Some run local businesses, some represent their local employers, and some are retired. Their purpose is to build community in Northeast and serve its children and seniors. Meet the East Minneapolis Exchange Club.
The first Exchange Club was founded in Detroit, Mich., in 1911. The founders were business people who wanted to exchange ideas about better ways of serving their communities. Their motto is “Unity for service,” and their national project is prevention of child abuse. They also support and appreciate people who have served in American armed forces and community service. The East Minneapolis chapter is one of 650 chapters throughout the United States and Puerto Rico.
Until 1964, there were two clubs serving the eastern side of Minneapolis, the Northeast Exchange Club and the Southeast Exchange Club. They came together that year and were subsequently chartered as the East Minneapolis Exchange Club. In recent years, Exchange memberships have declined. The Downtown and East Minneapolis clubs are the only ones left in the city.
Like many service organizations that started at the beginning of the last century, Exchange Clubs restricted their memberships to men only. The Downtown Minneapolis Exchange Club was a “guy thing” as late as 1984, when the club was the first in the nation to allow women to join. “They got kicked out of the national organization for doing it,” recalled Marty Schirber at a recent lunch at Elsie’s Restaurant. The club’s charter was reinstated the following year when the national organization “integrated,” too. Bob Herrmann, a 30-year member of the East Minneapolis Club, said, “Now our membership is 50 percent women. We’re pretty proud that the first move came from Minneapolis.”
A family tradition
For some, membership in the club has become a family tradition. Bob Herrmann, Sandy Waryan and Tom Siwek are all second-generation members.
Herrmann’s father, Karl, was a charter member of the Southeast Minneapolis Exchange Club when it organized in 1954. Bob’s first involvement with the organization came when his dad asked him to help out at the pancake breakfasts and summer picnics. His business, HSC Tax Service, is still based in Northeast. “We’re thankful that the community has helped us build our business,” he said. “This is our way of giving back.”
Waryan’s father, Emmett Faacks, was a member of the club for 41 years. “I grew up in the Exchange,” she said. “My dad was always in charge of things, and the six of us kids had to help.” Faacks was inducted into the national organization’s Hall of Fame, the only Northeaster to be inducted. A printer, (he founded B & B AdCrafters), Faacks printed the club’s literature and programs. Waryan carries on the tradition at Park Printing.
A history of good deeds
For many years, the East Minneapolis Exchange Club organized and paid for the Minneapolis Police Department’s city-wide Junior Police program. Many Northeast residents remember Officer Morris’ visits to school classrooms. The club paid for coloring books, badges and the officer’s travel expenses. It also funded a similar Junior Firefighter program with the Minneapolis Fire Department.
The Exchange Club also recognizes police officers from the Second Precinct, and gives a Book of Golden Deeds award to an outstanding volunteer in the community. Awards are handed out at the Northeast Celebration, co-sponsored by the club and the Northeast Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce. That will be held Oct.18 this year at Jax Café.
The club promotes love of country by handing out American flags at parades and by providing a Freedom Shrine display at local schools and public spaces. The display includes plaques bearing texts of the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and several other important historical documents. Locally, Northeast Middle School has a shrine; another is at Murzyn Hall in Columbia Heights.
In 1968, the club began serving a pancake breakfast at Holy Cross Church, 1621 University Avenue NE, to raise money for scholarships. “It was a lot of work,” recalled Tom Siwek. “We had an entire instruction book on how to make pancakes. We had to get there four to eight hours early to make the pancake batter. It was a secret recipe.” Sandy Waryan chimed in, “That’s because there was yeast in the mix. The pancakes had to rise.” It was a successful venture for many years, but competition from the Kiwanis, Lions and other groups took its toll. A few years ago, they “reinvigorated” the breakfast by moving it to Psycho Suzi’s, where guests build their own breakfasts and the volunteers have a lot less work to do.
The scholarships go to students who are graduating from Edison or St. Anthony, but they aren’t awarded to the smartest kid in the class. “A few years ago, we attended graduation at Edison and the same student got all the scholarships,” said Susan McCauley, current club president. “We stepped back from that and said, ‘Who are we trying to support here?’” The club amended its criteria. The Accepting the Challenge for Excellence Award now goes to the graduating student who has overcome obstacles and shows promise of leading a successful life. Students typically receive $1,000 the first year and $500 each year they remain in school until they obtain their diploma. Scholarships are awarded to students attending trade and technical schools as well as college. (To find out how to apply for the scholarship, visit http://eastmpls-exchange.org/ace-award/.)
The Exchange Club’s fundraising efforts (they raise $25,000 a year) support several area nonprofits.
A focus on youth
Its biggest focus is on youth. Beneficiaries of the club’s largesse include A Chance to Grow, Catholic Eldercare, Crisis Nursery (they also cook meals once a month), East Side Neighborhood Services, Edison Community Sports Foundation, La Opportunidad, Little Kitchen Food Shelf, East Side Meals on Wheels (they take two delivery routes a month), Minnesota 100 Club, Prevent Child Abuse Minnesota, Dickman Park and the Emma B. Howe YMCA.
They play well with others, too. A few years ago, they partnered with the Lions and the Kiwanis to purchase a van for East Side Neighborhood Services. “We’re really invested in Northeast,” said McCauley.
In fact, “Exchangeites” were among those who hatched the idea of the Northeast Investment Cooperative, which allows community members to become owners and investors in a real estate development cooperative that buys and rehabs properties in their community. Several club members are also co-op members.
Looking for millennials
Exchange Club members realize they must increase their membership – they’re at 45 right now – in order to continue to serve the community. Sandy Waryan said, “We’re like a little secret society. The funny thing is, many of us are involved in marketing, but we haven’t marketed ourselves.”
The Exchange Club meets at 12:15 three Wednesdays a month at Elsie’s, 720 Marshall Street NE. The fourth Wednesday is a “traveling day” when they meet at another Northeast restaurant. Membership has a “low threshold,” joked Schirber. “Just show up and eat.”
Dues are $100 per quarter, which primarily pays for lunch. “If you come to lunch every week, we lose money,” added Siwek.
“This club is imbedded in the community, said McCauley. “We want to make good things happen.”
The Exchange Club will hold its 50th annual build-your-own breakfast fundraiser at Psycho Suzi’s, 1900 Marshall St. NE, on Sunday, Nov. 11, 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. The cost is $10 for adults and $5 for children (ages 2-10) in advance, and $12 for adults and $6 for children at the door. Purchase tickets in advance at Psycho Suzi’s. All proceeds will benefit Northeast youth non-profit programs. Another youth benefit fundraiser will be held at Jax Café in January.
Below: Members of the East Minneapolis Exchange Club met recently at Elsie’s Restaurant for a presentation and lunch. Left to right: Nick Heille, Sandy Waryan, Tom Siwek, Nancy Przymus, Gordy Spartz, Diane Hofstede, Mike Vennewitz, Rosemary Heille, Tammy Shaw-Sykes, Marty Schirber, Jonathan Zaharin, John Fischer, Manisha Nordine, Gavin Watt, Carol Allin, Susan McCauley, Paul Jablonsky. (Photo by Cynthia Sowden)