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History of the Torch Club of the Fox Valley

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The Torch Club of the Fox Valley was chartered by Torch International on March 3, 1999.  The Charter night was April 15, 1999.  Hence, our club will be celebrating our 10th anniversary a few months prior to the 2009 International Convention.

Torch Club of Fox Valley History according to Alan F. Button, a founding member:
My first knowledge of Torch Clubs came from Lee and Leota Ester at a dinner party, that my wife, Christina, and I gave at our home in 1996.  Lee explained the nature of Torch and asked if I would be interested in joining such a club.  It sounded very interesting to me as I was at the time planning my retirement from Fort James R&D, with an eye toward becoming a consultant.  Lee explained that he was planning to assemble a group of interested people, mainly from Lawrence and UWFV, in the hope that we would have enough people willing to go ahead with trying to establish a club. 

I think we may have met as early as 12/4/1997 at Mark’s East Side.  I have a Daytimer note that there was a Torch meeting on 1/8/1998 at Butte des Morts Country club (BDM) and each month through June of 1998.  One of the meetings was at the Library.  Meetings resumed at the Library on 9/10/1998 and then at Ester’s on 10/4/1998.  By 1999 we were meeting monthly at BDM.  I have a record of a meeting on 4/15/1999, which I think was our chartering meeting with a visit from Ralph Falconer, who was subbing for Torch President, Ruth Geller, who was sick.  I believe Reid Taylor was also in attendance.  I was the Secretary starting in 1999 and maintained the relationship with BDM. 

From the beginning we’ve had a small, but very active club with a high level of participation.  Our very successful 2009 Convention in Appleton remains a tribute to our member commitment to the Torch club of the Fox Valley.

Len Weis : My earliest memory of the club was being invited by Lee (Ester) to join the group at a restaurant. We met at restaurants for a few meetings before finding a quieter place. I do not recall how many meetings we had that way. Lee had gotten a considerable number to come at first, but many dropped out. I think that what made the group jell into a real continuing group was finding a quiet home, courtesy of Al Button.

One of the things which helped us greatly was participating in the IATC annual meeting. The first one we attended was in St. Catherines, Ont. The delegates were, as I recall, Jim Baumgarten and Lee Ester, with Donna (Weis) and me as the alternates. They chose to stay at a less expensive place than the main group and were late in getting to the meetings, so Donna and I became the actual delegates. Once they arrived they decided we should continue in that role while they enjoyed other things. We made good contacts at the meeting and Donna and I have missed only one since then.

After member Pat Warrick suffered a severe accident, we arranged a Thanksgiving dinner at the hospital in Green Bay where she was permitted to use a separate room for our group. Don Dake offered to help me carry the turkey from my car to the room. It was in a big roaster and it slipped out of my hand behind the car. We rescued enough for us to have dinner, but for years that was the main subject for Don whenever we met. A beverage which we had was not on the allowed list for inside the hospital, yet someone decided we could get away with it. Since they did not throw Pat out, we did. (Donna and I were uncomfortable with that, but we said nothing.)

Later, Don led the group into trying to have the meetings in homes to save meal money. Although we had many interesting meetings that way, it was clear that the nature of the group would change from its original purpose of focusing on the presentations because of the logistical problems for presenters. So we returned to Butte des Morts. Nevertheless, we have been fortunate in the hospitality of Barb and Bill Kelly for having a gathering at their beautiful home and garden during the summer.

Several years ago, the club decided to honor a member who dies with a book in an area of interest to that person as a gift to the Public Library in their home community. These gifts have been given in honor of George Skowronski and Lee Ester.

Leota Ester, wife of founder, Leland D. Ester:

Lee responded to my brother’s, Dr. Edward G. Buss, urging to start a Torch Club in Appleton in approximately the mid-1990’s. The intent was to form a club that would be a part of the national organization, following the criteria set by that organization. Initially, it was thought that about 40 members should be recruited to provide a substantial base for presentations, thereby not asking too much of members and for adequate audience to hear the research work of the presenter.

Lee invited a few of his friends, among them Jim Baumbach and Al Button, to meet and consider the interest for such an organization. They drew up a list of names to call and proceeded to invite friends to meet with them. My memory is that meetings occurred both in our home and at various restaurants where the ideas were discussed.

Response came from enough persons to create the club, to ask for national recognition, and to be given membership. Growth occurred slowly, but those who became members liked both the presentations of topics of which they generally knew little, the discussions that followed, and the members who regularly attended. As a regular time and place was essential, Butte des Morts Country Club was chosen and the club has met there until the present

Reed Taylor, Past-President International Association of Torch Clubs Member of the Buffalo Torch Club:

At my brother-in-law Peter Thiel's request, here's what I recall about founding the Fox Valley Torch Club.

On a visit as IATC President in 1996 to the Central Pennsylvania Torch Club in State College, PA, my wife Glynda and I stayed with their then-President Ed Buss, and we discovered a mutual connection with Appleton--he with his brother-in-law Lee Ester and I having grown up there (with my sister Helen Thiel). I was anxious to encourage new Torch Clubs and Ed knew how skillful Lee was in public relations/networking. So at his urging I contacted Lee, and we planned an initial show-and-tell gathering at Riverview Country Club to be held when I next went to visit Appleton. Lee sent over 80 invitations to contacts from Green Bay to Oshkosh, but mostly related to Appleton and the collegiate communities of UWFox Valley and Lawrence.

The event was quite successful, with 25 or so men and women professionals attending.; I recall going over his master list, and feeling good that those who came (along with the 15 or so who sent regrets, but wanted to know more) made up a nice cross-section of the kinds of people Torch has always interested--those committed to the life of the mind in a wide variety of disciplines and vocations.

I had past issues of Torch set out on a long table, along with brochures about IATC and the Local Torch Club, and sample newsletters from other Torch clubs. After a pleasant lunch, Lee gave a "pep talk" and I made a brief presentation pointing out why I was convinced that the Fox Valley was an ideal place to plant a new Torch club, and laying out the steps to follow to make this happen. The ensuing discussion was enthusiastic, and in the subsequent weeks Lee got on the phone with the keep me posted group, in most cases following up with mailings of some of my materials. He also convened follow-up organizational meetings, such as the one Len Weis recalls in his Member Recollection for your History Page.

One of my greatest pleasures was to visit your club in the spring of 1999, as you were just starting out as a chartered member of the International Association of Torch Clubs. I wish you well as you continue to thrive and develop. I salute you on your leadership in hosting the International Torch Convention in a few years.

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