Father Charles Maxwell
Father Charles Maxwell - Founder
Father Charles P. Maxwell launched the Boys' Club of St. Louis on October 3, 1929 on the second floor of St. Vincent's Parochial School. Under the sponsorship of the St. Louis Catholic Archdiocese, Fr. Maxwell's new club was the first officially affiliated Boys' Club in the state of Missouri. Over the next 30 years, the Club moved a number of times before completing and occupying the current facility at 2524 South 11th Street in 1959.
As a young man in his 30's, Reverend Charles P. Maxwell was assigned by Archbishop Cardinal Glennon to serve as the first "Catholic Youth Director of St. Louis." Maxwell's mission was to work with all boys, regardless of race, color, or creed. Maxwell selected the "slum area" or "Soulard Police District" which had the highest boy population and the highest juvenile delinquency rate. The area was bounded by the Mississippi River west to Jefferson Avenue, north to Chouteau Avenue and south to Cherokee Avenue.
When the Boys' Club of St. Louis opened its doors on October 3, 1929, their home was the abandoned St. Vincent's Parochial School building located on the southwest corner of 9th and Park Avenue. The three-story building was remodeled to offer a gym, games room, showers and other necessary facilities. To finish construction, Father Maxwell solicited money and materials from friends, St. Louis businesses and professional people. On opening day over 400 boys registered as members.
During the early years, the Boys' Club of St. Louis often found it difficult to meet monthly operating expenses. Because the predecessor to our now United Way had a three-year waiting period before being eligible to apply for funding, Father Maxwell repeatedly asked friends, business people and companies to support his mission.
In 1930, John McCormick, the famed Irish tenor, gave a Benefit Concert in the old St. Louis Coliseum to support The Boys' Club. This performance raised almost $7,000. In 1932, the "Notre Dame All Stars" led by the famed All-American quarterback, Frank Carideo, played a Benefit Football Game before a capacity crowd of over 17,000 fans at Walsh Stadium. They faced an All-Star squad of varsity players from St. Louis University and Washington University. This event raised over $10,000 for the Club.
These high profile and successful fund-raising events helped the Boys' Club of St. Louis takes steps to operate as an independent private agency, free from community support, and governed solely by its Board of Directors. By 1933 the club had an active membership of over 1,200 boys, with an average daily attendance of over 400 youngsters. It had proved itself worthy of community support and was admitted to the St. Louis Community Chest - the forerunner to the United Way.
Boys' Club of St. Louis was forced to move in late 1934 because St. Vincent's Parish needed the building to house grade school classrooms. On November 28, 1934 the club opened at 1721 South 7th Street. This was an old mansion type building that required extensive remodeling. Because this facility lacked a gymnasium, the Boys' Club of St. Louis used the Soulard Gym, located a few blocks west in the Soulard Community Center.
When this situation came to the attention of a group of South St. Louis businessmen, who had witnessed first-hand the outstanding work the club has done in the community, they promptly donated funds to purchase a building at 1508 South 8th Street. During remodeling at the proposed new 8th Street site, a fire destroyed the building as well as the new addition that was under construction.
Still in search of a new home, the Board of Directors located a building at 915 Lafayette Avenue, the former Freund Baking Company. Funds to remodel this commercial building were derived from the sale of the 8th Street real estate, coupled with damages recovered from the fire loss. Following extensive renovations, this new building opened on December 20, 1937. The Boys' Club remained at the Lafayette location until the present club facility was constructed and opened in 1959.
John Valle Janes was a noted and generous benefactor of the club. He gave a lot of his time, talents and money during the early years of the Boys' Club of St. Louis. Janes served as the Board President from 1942 to 1954 and was the main fund raiser. He retired as board President in 1954 and continued as a Life Director until his death on January 7, 1972.
Due to his life-long friendship with an old South St. Louis family, the Jacob Stocke family, Father Maxwell was instrumental in having the Stocke heirs deed a tract of vacant land as a gift to the Boys' Club of St. Louis. This tract was the former site of the old Green Tree Brewery, located on the northeast corner of 11th and Sidney, in the densely populated tenement-area of the near Southside.
The Stocke tract of land was originally conveyed to the City of St. Louis by the family with a proviso in the deed that the property be used for a public playground. However, due to strained municipal financial conditions during the Depression, the City of St. Louis was unable to develop the area and adhere to the terms of the conditional gift. As a result, the vacant land reverted to the Stocke heirs.
As soon as he learned of this opportunity, Father Maxwell persuaded the Stocke heirs to gift the same tract to the Boys' Club of St. Louis on the condition that the club construct a new club building on the site.
Realizing that time was of the essence, Father Maxwell energized his Board of Directors and created a "Boys' Club Building Fund." The dream of a new facility was nearly shattered due to the untimely death of Father Maxwell. But, the Board of Directors decided not to end this idea and dream and proceed with the building program as originally planned. On May 2, 1955, Mr. Harry T. Bussman, Jr., was unanimously elected President. Under his capable direction, business acumen and untiring energy, the drive to raise funds proceeded with amazing results.
The facility plans were the creation of Raymond Maritz and Sons, Inc., Architects. On September 10, 1959 the cornerstone was laid and the building continued. The site covered an approximate square block that included a one-story brick building 200 feet long and 117 feet deep at a cost of over $450,000.00.
Father Maxwell remained as Chairman of the Board of Directors from its founding in 1929 until his sudden death on April 5, 1955. Throughout his service to the Boys' Club, he simultaneously carried on his duties as Pastor of a large St. Louis Catholic Church parish.