The Ft. Wayne Ski Club celebrates its 75th anniversary in January 2011, and in the years since 1936, thousands of area flatlanders have associated themselves with others who share the exhilaration of sliding down snowy hills strapped in funny boots to long boards.
On January 7th, they have organized a party to recognize the long standing traditions of the Club. Frankie and the Bananas will be performing to the 150 memebers ranging in age from 20 to 80 years old. Many events are planned throughout the year including, skiing, tubing, summer league tennis, wine tasting parties, hay rides, golf outings, canoe trips, monthly socials and card parties are some of the activities of the group. To learn more please go to their website.
In 1972 Heinz Wahl put together a historical review of the club to that date and the following is based on his recollection with updates by Marv Fishman (1912-2001) and Dave Billian.
Memory does not always provide the exact chronological order of events, nor the hour, or day, or even month. Skiing did not have recognition in the twenties or early thirties in our Ft. Wayne area. Thus, events are based upon the knowledge of its founders, Henry Wahl and Ed Dodez, as well as some of the old members who still reside in our community without whom the club’s history could never have been written. The importance is not the exact date of events but the fact that it all did happen.
The names of the original members are given as being correct and as complete as can be after 36 years of snow. To those remembered, and for those names we may have forgotten, we give recognition to their spirit and contribution to the sport of skiing.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
The progress of time with its accompanying tune of social changes and scientific advancements has failed to alter one distinguishing characteristic of the skier. Whatever year we point back to into the history of skiing we would always find that same far away look upon the skier’s face as he dreams of slopes covered with untracked snow being carved by his flying skis.
As we point back to the years between 1924 and 1936, we would discover Midwest skiing and more specifically skiing in Ft. Wayne area comparable to a toddling infant. A stumbling, fledgling sport without attention or much direction. However, there was a quality within this immature winter activity that grasped one’s interests like wet snow to unwaxed skis. During this early period our time machine reveals the events and players which led to the creation of the Kekionga Ski Club.
In the next chapter we will meet the people that were the forerunners of our present Ft. Wayne Ski Club.
In the HISTORY OF THE FORT WAYNE SKI CLUB Part 1, we saw that before 1936 there just wasn’t any skiing in Fort Wayne. One must consider and recognize that during the 20′s there did not exist the well developed functional equipment or the enticing areas with their chair lifts and after ski life. Even transportation restricted the skier’s ability to venture far and still be within the realm of practicality.
Whatever few ski areas existed in those long ago 20′s, they could hardly be considered by today’s standards as providing excellent skiing facilities and more often proved to be more of a tobaggonist’s delight. Even with these adverse ingredients, environment and the unpredictable Indiana snows, there still existed an enthusiasm for skiing by a few hardy souls who were probably looked upon as individuals devoid of gray matter within their cranium. The response of the public witnessing one of our early local skiers trudging his way out to the municipal park with long skis and poles resting upon his shoulders, and garbed in big boots and baggy knickers, long woolen socks with an unmatched wool cap, and exhorting billowing vapors from his nostrils could only result in one responsive action. “Call the paddy wagon as no sensible human would trot around like that in this cold. If one must be out on a day like this, it must be only to clear the walks.” The same response would be as if one were to gaze upon some creature from outer space striding down our main street.
One of these strange beings made the scene. Upon graduating from Dartmouth in 1925, Ed Dodez returned to Ft. Wayne bringing with him a desire to continue skiing. His college Outing Club took him touring and downhill skiing in the White Mountains and the bug had bitten.
Ed Dodez, a native of Ft. Wayne, ventured forth alone as he skied the small slopes of our city parks. He almost set skiing back a few years when he accepted the challenge of ski touring behind a car from Reservoir Hill into town and ended in front of the old Indiana Hotel. History has it he collected his bet. Being a hiker and preferring hills to streets, he recalled the slopes north of the city in the area of Cedar Creek not far from the present Isaac Walton League Club House. This new territory became his Indiana Appalachians.
Another one of these crazy devils appeared from out of nowhere in 1923. A young man and his wife from Bavaria, Germany, decided to make a new start in life in a country which would provide the opportunity for peace and happiness. By some quirk of circumstance, Henry Wahl and his wife Marla, who also skied, ended up in a geographical area which was in direct contrast from the Alps that they saw from their village home a few miles from the towering Bavarian Mountains. Henry, who was virtually brought up on skis and whose hobby had been mountaineering and skiing, was going to make the most out of the least. Just as his future life long friend Ed Dodez, he decided there was just too much love for skiing to do nothing about it. If someone found ski tracks down through their sloping vacant lot, or herringbone tracks up the old Reservoir Hill, they knew that the Wild Bavarian had been there.
Unfortunately, these gentlemen did not cross skis for a few years; at least they didn’t happen to be at the same city park at the same time. They continued their individual ways schussing whatever looked schussable, and a slope that had a 15 degree pitch was a major discovery and a little piece of heaven. Part 3 will cover1930 to 1942.
Parts 1 & 2 of the FWSC HISTORY have shown how Ed Dodez brought skiing to Ft. Wayne and was a one-man Ski Club. In 1930 while Ed was attending a Scout Jamboree at Rome City, he met this energetic, German fellow who was also active in scouting. After conversing about the enjoyment of the outdoors, sailing, and canoeing, they hit on an even greater common ground – skiing. Both realized that at last their lonely jaunts were ended and began discussing about encouraging others to take up the sport of telemarking down the snowy slopes.
Through Ed Dodez, Henry was brought into the Kekionga Paddle and Sail Club where they found another skier, Robert Nichens. Others within this club thought they would extend their sport activities into winter and skiing sounded as if it would offer the same type of outdoor adventure as they had found in sailing and canoeing.
Throughout the following four years, the small group of seven skiers induced some others who were equally adventurous in spirit. Henry, who had started a fencing academy, gathered a few of his apt pupils and substituted ski poles for fencing foils. Now the group of seven doubled. On Friday eves, when the snow had held, the phones began to ring and haphazard plans were made to head for Cedar Creek or Buzzard’s Hill (now known as Mt. Wawasee from 1960-1990). It was finally concluded that some organizational planning was needed to make more effective use of time. Ed & Henry felt that if we are all giving to skiing together, let’s start a club. In 1936, the month and place no longer remembered, the Kekionga Ski Club was formed and Henry Wahl as its President. The old Kekionga Paddle and Sail Club had disbanded and many of its former members were now involved in the activities of the new ski club.
As an interesting local sidelight, the members of the ski club were instrumental in founding the Wawasee Yacht Club, one of Indiana’s oldest existing yacht clubs.
As the word went out that winter was the greatest season of all if you skied, the Kekionga family began to grow. The slopes of Cedar Creek on an autumn day would find the group cutting down weeds, carting off boulders and tree limbs. Henry Wahl ran his eager group up and down the hills to improve the “benz-zee-knees” action. Soon some energetic souls under direction of Bob Nichens built a small ski jump and warming shelter. The area became the hub of sitzmarks.
To further encourage the growth of skiing, new products and improvements over the old ones finally came to these snowbirds. Steel edges! Every cabinet maker in town found some nut knocking on his door wanting a neat fine grove cut into the edges of his skis so that the edges could be inserted. There were even rumors that there were skis with edges already installed. The old hot iron used in putting on the base wax and the hours of scraping were becoming passé. The sticky dark wax was replaced with coats of liquid base lacquer. Hazelwood poles lost out to tonklin poles. The bindings had been improved! Now the toe irons could be adjusted without disassembling the whole binding. The leather straps with the metal back buckles were replaced with snappy cables. Those old boots whose turned-up toes that would stare you in the face — pitch’em. The boots now have metal shanks within the soles. Fashion was not overlooked. Everyone who wanted to look the part purchased the slick finished gabardine ski trousers and the woolies made their way to the Salvation Army. The new slacks appeared like a loose jib sail whipping in the wind. The greatest invention of all also came onto the scene of progress. What the wheel was to civilization, the rope tow was equally significant to skiing. Dirty, slippery, wet, greasy, whipping, ornery, snaky, blankety-blank ropes shot everyone back up the fill sometimes depositing the skiers on the rooftops of the sheds containing the gasoline engine that furnished the power. But it was great not having to spend an hour climbing back up the slope and not listening to the cry of “track” as some fool whizzed by. With the coming of the rope tow, the rat race was on. Mitten manufacturers were having a heyday replenishing worn out tow mitts and grandma couldn’t keep enough of that liniment around the house. Sore arms and shoulders were a common skier’s ailment. The new ski jackets proved to be excellent sponges to dry off the rope tow and black marks of the tow branded the individual as a skier.
Part 4 will cover 1940 to 1959.
The first three parts of the FWSC HISTORY covered up to 1940, we continue now as it really got rolling….
Although skiing continued in the forties at Cedar Creek, Buzzard’s Hill, and touring with the Toledo Ski Club on Pokagon State Park Hills, the migration began north. Caberfae here we come was the week end cry. Some of the members of the Ski Club became the scourge of the Michigan State Police and became well acquainted with many of the small town constables. One of the illustrious members, Ed Kane, had to resort to finding a dozen routes to Cadillac.
Skiing was getting into the swing of things but concluded quickly at the outbreak of the Second World War. Trips ground to a stand still, unless someone had obtained enough gas stamps and possessed tires that handsomely showed sufficient tread. Marv Fishman, upon certification as a skier by Henry Wahl, enlisted in the newly formed 10th Mountain Infantry Division, composed of many skiers from all parts of the USA. One of his service friends returned after the war and developed the Arapahoe Ski Area in Colorado.
Soon after the end of the war, the old members flocked back together again and were on the go. Henry Wahl was instructing in Wisconsin, and leading ski train trips to Sun Valley where he also instructed. Some member always returned to give a glowing report on skiing at Stowe, British Columbia, or northern Michigan. In 1945, Henry Wahl and his son Heinz were leading the cry — go west young man, go west. There’s a new area that hasn’t quite opened but we went anyway and its nothing short of terrific. This new area still not well known was Aspen! With these words in their ears, Marv Fishman , Louis Derheimer, the Ankenbruck brothers, June and Ed Dodez, Bob Fisher, Bob Goldstine jumped into their covered wagons and returned discipling the cry of Westward Ho!
As time records, many of the members of the Kekionga Ski Club found the inherited responsibilities that time does bring cutting into their skiing activities. Fortunately, a new group composed of young ardent skiers began to take over the future of the club. In 1959, a new name was adopted and the Indian name for Fort Wayne was changed to a name that pinpointed the club’s home base. Besides, who wants to go into a long dissertation on what Kekionga means and then where Fort Wayne is. The Fort Wayne Ski Club was an excellent solution and befitting name for a club which had come a long way from skiing out at Cedar Creek Canyon.
This early history only covers the first 23 years through 1959; 1960-1967 seems to be missing (a blur to many of us), but we pick up again in 1968 when the first FWSC newsletter was published. It was named the “Mogul Yodeler” by current Chairman of the Board Dale Fulkerson’s wife, and since then has documented monthly, the various activities of the Club.
Everything has a beginning, humble as it may be. The spirit of skiing remains the same whatever the name may be. The year was 1936 and the way of life, the same dreams of untracked slopes covered with snow continue to fill the heart of the skier today as it did then.
photos coutesty Fort Wayne Ski Club