'The Get Busy Club'

By Chuck Cecil

Special to The Brookings Register

Posted 5/17/24

  In August of 1906 some of Brookings’ most successful businessmen gathered at the Masonic Temple to organize what they decided to call the “Get Busy Club.”

  The …

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'The Get Busy Club'

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 In August of 1906 some of Brookings’ most successful businessmen gathered at the Masonic Temple to organize what they decided to call the “Get Busy Club.”

 The Masonic Temple building where they met still stands at the intersection of Main and Third Street. The Get Busy Club was only active for about three years, but their work in that short time was important to a growing Brookings. 

 A small, time-tattered booklet of that group’s handwritten meeting minutes includes the club’s purpose on its yellowed first page. It was “to advance the commercial interests of, and to increase the growth of the City of Brookings.” 

Because the Get Busy Club’s purpose seemed to match perfectly with those of the city’s Commercial Club, the forming of this new club raises questions. Surely most of the nearly 30 Get Busy Club members were also members of the Commercial Club. One member, G. N. Breed, was at the time secretary of the Commercial Club. Get Busy member C. A. Skinner’s father, W. A. Skinner, was the first president of the Brookings Commercial Club in 1892 and financed the Masonic Temple building.

So why was the upstart Get Busy Club entering the scene?

The club’s efforts from its organizational meeting on show that its membership saw potential for the city to reach out to a growing trade area. Brookings at that time had a population of 3,260; while Brookings County’s population was about 13,000. However, Commercial Club activities at that time seem to have been largely social.  

The Get Busy Club roster included names that still ring clear in any study of the development of early Brookings, such as grain buyer and flour maker George Sexauer; Fred Cole, who developed the largest women’s ready-to-wear store in town, and C. A. Skinner, who owned the town’s largest department store at 300 Main Avenue that sold everything from fresh eggs to fence stretchers. Two of the club members were medical doctors and two were druggists.  One was a dentist. 

Another was cigar maker J. P. Olsen, an alderman at the time of his Get Busy Club membership, who was busy turning out stogies by the thousands in his shop where Ray’s Corner is now. His famous “Yon Yonson” cigars were in great demand. 

It is safe to say that the membership of the Get Busy Club was well respected, influential and wealthy.  

At the first Get Busy club meeting on August 13, 1906, new members didn’t just sit around puffing on Yon Yonsons. They “got busy” approving l4 bylaws, electing five officers, setting a dues structure ($15 a year plus $1 a month compared with Commercial Club annual dues of $5) and appointing two important and long-standing committees that seemed to address the club’s apparent desire to reach out to families farming in an expanding Brookings trade area. 

New president George West, proprietor of the town’s most prestigious furniture store located on the Masonic Temple’s ground floor, first set in place a once-a-month Saturday “Market Day Committee.” 

Its purpose was to invite farmers to Brookings, some of whom lived nearby and were already coming to town on Saturdays to trade and shop, parking their teams and grain and hay wagons on Main Street. Hay wagons were often so numerous on Main Street that local horse and buggy traffic was almost impossible. Eventually, city fathers designated Third Avenue west of Main for farm wagon parking.

With the traffic jam problems solved and the Get Busy Club designating a Market Day, Brookings for the first time was extending a helping and welcoming hand to potential customers in the entire county.   

The “Get Busy” Saturday Market Day Committee took pains to advertise that special day, sending invitations to area farmers and offering free noon luncheons, free auctioneering services to help them sell their produce, used farm equipment and livestock, plus other enticements such as free movies or a speaker on better farming practices staged in the town’s new Opera House located at the corner of Third Avenue and Fourth Steet. 

The first “Get Busy” Market Day in Brookings was held Saturday, Sept. 15, 1906. Its expenses came to $88.42. Printing cost was $8.50, stationery was 50 cents and postage $5.15. The club also paid $15 for auctioneer C.J. Rudolph’s sales calling, and rent for the Opera House free movie was an even $20. The farmers’ free lunch, prepared by Thomas Gullick cost $28.27 plus another $4 “for pig,” which had been purchased by club member and respected Brookings physician Dr. Granville Coller. 

Incidentally, Dr. Coller also had one of Brookings’ first hospitals. According to old telephone books on file in the Brookings County Museum in Volga, Dr. Coller at the time lived at 715 Fourth Street. Occasionally the home became a hospital, with the kitchen serving as an operating room. His house on Fourth Street is still there. 

With Market Day humming along, Get Busy Club members next sought ways to make it easier for farmers to prod their oxen or teams of horses over dusty, mired, rutted or sometimes almost impassable roads and bridges, all at maybe two miles per hour on their Saturday trip to Brookings.

To help smooth out those rough travel problems, President West appointed a “Wagon Road Committee.” It was to investigate road conditions leading to Brookings and to determine ways to level out the mudholes and wagon ruts and see to minor bridge repair if necessary. They were told to pay special attention to the roads and bridges over the “Big Sioux River west, southwest and northwest of town.” 

To conduct road and bridge work too difficult to fix with hammers, saws, rakes and shovels, the group worked with the county commissioners to see what could be done. 

During its approximately three years of existence, the club continued to sponsor Market Day and improve “wagon roads,” although the road and bridge challenges were mostly futile attempts at best on the dirt roads of the day. 

At times, members of the Get Busy Club, including Dr. Coller, loaded their buggies with shovels and rakes and drove out to try to make the dirt paths a bit smoother. Some of the club’s expense reports mention payment to farmers for using their drag harrows and teams to level out roads as best they could.

The club was very active with Market Day and good roads and bridges, but it still found funds and time for Brookings City projects. One of the club’s largest expenditures recorded was “$100 for railroad,” but there is no further elaboration. The club was also active in organizing and holding mass meetings to inform voters in each of the Brookings four wards about the need for a city sewer system, which was later approved by citizen vote. 

There was also concern about keeping the town’s struggling creamery in operation at 418 Fourth Street. At that time, The Brookings Creamery and Ice Cream Company was battling stiff competition from the excellent cooperative creamery operations in nearby Aurora, Elkton, White and especially Volga. 

Club members also saw to it that the town’s Fourth of July celebration program continued to be held and that farm families were encouraged to join in the celebration.   

 If the Get Busy coffers dwindled at times because of the cost for all it tried to do, a “Solicitation Committee” was appointed to go door-to-door on Main Street and seek donations.

Exactly when the Get Busy Club ceased to exist is unknown. It is assumed that its members gradually migrated back to the town’s growing Commercial Club, joining with other Brookings businessmen and women to continue the various farm and agricultural outreach programs and projects and extend a hand to welcome area farm families to Brookings. 

The Commercial Club in 1938 became the Brookings Chamber of Commerce.

 

Cecil is an author, former Register columnist and member of  the board of the Brookings County Museum.