Zenas Crane's vision remains as vital today as it was in 1899. The legendary papermaker and philanthropist envisioned a club where boys could go to channel energy and ideas and, with the right supervision and encouragement, become productive citizens. What began with Mr. Crane’s $800 seed money has long been recognized as one of the jewels of the Berkshire community. The Boys' and Girls' Club of Pittsfield has grown from 320 members at its official inception in 1900 to approximately 5,000 today, producing leaders for the local community and beyond.
In 1901, a main feature of the club was cobbling equipment whereby boys could learn to repair their own shoes. Today, there are basketball courts, a swimming pool, a hockey rink, flat screen TVs and computers. Until television and other modern amusements took over, the early years featured dances and movie nights that attracted hundreds to the club for each event.
Begun in rented rooms on Renne Avenue, the club moved to its present and permanent location on Melville Street in 1906. The $40,000 cost of the new structure was reported to have come again from Mr. Crane. And the boys responded. A membership of about 800 jumped to 1,200 or so within a matter of weeks. The club continued to upgrade and improve over the years, with a new gymnasium and classroom wing added in 1910 that was again funded by Zenas Crane. The swimming pool, opened in 1928, was the second-largest in Western Massachusetts at the time.
The ice rink was built in 1960 and is largely responsible for the continuing existence of a Berkshire County high school hockey league. It also provides a reliable venue for public skating when outdoor ice may or may not exist.
Camp Russell, the summer adjunct to the club, began in 1910 with the boys traveling to Richmond Pond’s west shore by train and on to the camp by rowboat. Electricity came to the camp in 1927 (when it cost $2.50 for a boy to spend a week at the overnight camp) and the dining hall was built in 1951.
In the 1970s, a blossoming of programs occurred, including summer activities, recreation programs for youth with special needs, girls' programs and a licensed nursery school and daycare.
One of the most significant features of the club has been the long-running tradition of designating a Youth of the Year. Many Berkshire County luminaries have been selected for the honor and in 1986, Shawn Southard went on to win the New England and national titles. His award included a $5,000 scholarship from the Reader's Digest Foundation and a visit to the White House with President Ronald Reagan.
Another point of great pride is the fact that three of our alumni have been named to the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs of America’s Hall of Fame. Included among a list of only 120 people throughout the country are Larry Bossidy, former Chairman and CEO of Honeywell; Evan Dobelle, president of Westfield State College and the New England Board of Higher Education; and Ret. Brigadier General Francis Roberts, United States Army.
In 1991, the national Boys' Clubs organization officially changed its name to Boys' and Girls' Clubs. The occasion passed with relatively little fanfare in Pittsfield, since the club had long since recognized the opportunities to everyone of female participation and already boasted more than 1,000 girls as loyal members.
Throughout the modern era, there have been but four directors of the club. In 1928, Fred Fahey was hired as swimming director. He stayed 44 years in all, with the last 17 as club superintendent. In a similar fashion, James J. Mooney, fresh out of high school, took a job in 1949 as senior room advisor. He became, in turn, swimming director, basketball supervisor, program director, camp director, assistant superintendent and finally superintendent and executive director. At Mr. Mooney’s retirement in 1989, Craig R. Crosier - who also rose through the ranks of the club’s leadership staff – took over the helm. The current Executive Director is Peter E. Bell, a “Boys’ Club boy,” who was named to the post at Mr. Crosier’s retirement in 1999.