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‘Club kids’ go back in time at annual tree in Bradenton

MANATEE -- Many Christmas tree lots were open Friday in Manatee County, the day after Thanksgiving.

But perhaps only one offered not only a tree, but the chance to go back in time.

That would be the one on Manatee Avenue West, near West Gate Shopping Center and Jessie P. Miller Elementary School, where the Boys and Girls Clubs of Manatee County have sold trees to support their youth programs for 57 years.

It was possible to see the time machine work at precisely 3:30 p.m. Friday.

That’s when Carl Weeks, 63, president of the Boys and Girls Clubs, clad in work jeans, stood by the front gate of the lot and proclaimed, “Through this gate come many former Boys and Girls Club members.”

Sure enough, the very next customer was Bradenton insurance man Jim Ingram, 56, with his wife, Sharon.

“Club kid,” Weeks said, winking, referring to the fact that Ingram belonged to the Bradenton Boys Club 48 years ago.

“I remember when I was 8 1/2 I couldn’t wait to join,” said eager time-traveler Ingram. “They had a canteen in the Bradenton Club there on Ninth Street West near McKechnie Field. I had no idea what a canteen was. It was a place to buy what a boy needs to survive: candy and soda. A quarter went a long way. You could shoot pool and play baseball. Bert South was our director.”

As her husband slipped away into the time warp, Sharon Ingram strolled alone through the trees.

Many former “club kids” are now successful county citizens who have established a tradition of buying their Christmas tree at the Boys and Girls Club tree lot the day after Thanksgiving, to support the program and perhaps fall a bit under the spell of nostalgia, Weeks said.

“A lot of really good people passed through our buildings,” Weeks said.

Former “club kids” who appear at the tree lot every Christmas include Sheriff Brad Steube, former mayor Bill Evers, school board members Harry Kinnan and Bob Gause, and Rep. Jim Boyd, along with countless others, Weeks said.

The very next customer Friday was Bradenton lawyer Jack Perkins.

“Club kid,” Weeks said, smiling.

“Remember Forest ‘Pokey’ Johnson?” Hawkins said, referring to a popular Club employee who is now deceased.

Paula Hawkins was soon joining the lonely Sharon Ingram.

The Boys Club, which didn’t host girls until 1992, was THE place for a boy to go back in the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and right up to now, said Manatee Junior College’s legendary baseball coach Bob Wynn, who walked into the lot Friday with his daughter, local theater director Kelly Wynn Woodland, and granddaughter, actress Corinne Woodland, who will be in the soon-to-open “White Christmas” at Manatee Players.

“Hey, coach,” Weeks yelled at Wynn.

“How ya holding up?” Wynn replied.

Bob Wynn said Corinne reminds him every Friday after Thanksgiving that it’s time to get the tree at the Boys and Girls Club.

“Ever since she was this high,” the former Lancer coach said.

Then Wynn, Corinne and Kelly went back in time and remembered Maralyn Wynn, the deceased matriarch of the family.

“She would be saying now, ‘Yall come over and heat something up then we’ll put up the decorations,” Corinne Woodland said.

There seems to be many things that keep people coming back to this little lot.

“I grew up in the club,” said volunteer and former “club kid” Brad Scarbrough, who met his wife, Sharon, at this lot back in the mid-1990s when they were both club volunteers.

“Now, we serve latch-key kids, whose parents are working several jobs. We provide a place for these kids to feel safe and secure like a second home. A lot of kids don’t have that.”

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 6686.