Meriden Turner Society 150 Years
History is made by people. It is a means to record mankind’s activities and fortunes in the annals of time. History enlarges our experience; it enables us to judge of present issues through our knowledge of similar situations in the past. History also provides us with the motives to honor those who through ideas and deeds have made their mark on society. A full century of existence has given it the right to command close observation and acquaintance with that history.
The date was February 22, 1866. Among Meriden’s 1200 German inhabitants were 46 newly arrived immigrants, interested in gymnastic exercises. From their old homeland they brought with them an ideal: the care and stimulation of the body and mind through physical and mental activities. Their social and cultural background was one exposed to a then prevailing German movement of spiritual and bodily renewal. Guided by the principal, they met on February 22 on a lot located at State Street Extension for the purpose of founding the Meriden Turner Society. Little did the original 46 members know that their creation would survive the problems and demands of a subsequent century. Yet, their devotion to the cause stimulated growth. At first, private homes served as a meeting place and an open lot as practice grounds. Somewhat later, about 1870, Hill’s Hall was tented to serve as a home for the society. Purchase of property opposite the present freight depot led to the erection of the first Turner Hall, dedicated June 17, 1879. Possession of their own quarters kindled enthusiasm and new efforts and the skills and the fitness of the active Turners gained statewide recognition in private and competitive meets. Cultural and dramatic activities under the untiring leadership of August Hirschfeld and Fred Kämmer culminated in a reputation that went far beyond the limits of Meriden. A school operated by the society in 1878 taught in excess of 50 students. With the founding of the Turner Liedertafel in the same year, the age of German lust for singing came into its own. A Mutual Aid section for members helped soften the financial set-backs that followed in the wake of illness and bereavement. Since man was not destined to work alone, the birth in 1875 of the Turner Ladies Auxiliary went far to satisfy a wide-felt need.
Under the guiding influence of the dedicated members like Charles Weber, Charles Glock and William Balzer the Turners progressed and soon out grew their junior years. A varying social life displayed itself in colorful parades, popular picnics and dramatic presentation. The former skating rink on Hanover Street was the scene of many a rousing masquerade ball that attracted Meriden’s young and old. It was only natural that in time the society needed larger quarters. The purchase of a lot and house on Pratt Street facing the present fire headquarters led to the building and completion in 1895 of a new and larger Turner Hall, costing $14,000. Proud of the modern acquisition, the society’s standing in the community attracted a large membership and served for some time as a focal point of Meriden’s social affairs. In those days members August Schmelzer and Herman Krämer left their imprint on the society. Through the efforts of the Turners, led by Oscar Dossin, the City of Meriden pioneered in adopting a physical education program for its public school system. The Turners own instructor, George Baer, served in like capacity for the city. World War I left the Turner Society not unscathed and the sale in 1918 of their proud home to International Silver Company was not unexpected. Temporary quarters were established at an old church building located at the present Carmel Crisp site on West Main Street. A resurgence after the War’s end caused the society to outgrow its facilities. In 1922, under the leadership of Fred Weber, a new chapter opened with the purchase of property and erection in 1923 of a new hall on Butler Street. With the influx of immigration, activities rose. The clouds of war in 1941 however darkened again the horizon of the society. Cessation of hostilities, though eagerly awaited, left it with circumstances which a few years after gave no other alternative but to discontinue its original purpose: the practice of gymnastics exercises. Under the impact of this forced decision the Turner Society adopted its main object the care and concern of German and American Folk Singing.
As in years past under John Keller and Theodore Weber, so now under the new direction of Ernest Gierginski the society undertook to strive for excellence and accomplishment. The love of song and good fellowship brought about the Ladies Singing Group in 1950. Together with the male chorus notable successes in competitive contests were achieved. But once more the quiet waters of the Turner Society were disturbed. The progress and problems of our modern time for 40 years to the Meriden Parking Authority. Civil responsibility of the members resulted in an affirmative answer, followed immediately by determined efforts to secure a new home. A suitable place was found on Old Colony Road and in short time the shell of the present Turner Hall was erected. President Wolfgang Suhr, Building Committee Chairman Winfried Gumz and members, Otto Wagner, Gustav Blum, August Heilmann headed a group of skilled and willing members, who enthusiastically labored to make their new home a place of pride and comfort. Dedication on June 16, 1962 crowned the massive effort. This same building is the home of the Meriden Turner Society today.
The first hundred years are the hardest.
The Meriden Turner Society celebrated its 150th Anniversary on June 4, 2016. Over the past 50 years, the Meriden Turners Society, under the leadership of past and present Presidents and Vice Presidents, has continued as a landmark of the Meriden community.
With the enthusiasm of devoted members and friends, the organization was able to maintain its reputation as a great place to socialize and participate in choral singing. With Mr. Roy Madeia as conductor from 1962-2002 of the Men’s chorus, the Combined chorus and the Ladies’ chorus, the Turner Society continued to participate in competitive Choral singing at the annual Staats Sängerfest. Under the leadership of Mrs. Martha Wagner as President, the Ladies chorus achieved a high level of excellence in competitive choral singing. The accomplishments of choral groups are recorded on the plaques and trophies which are proudly displayed at the Turner Hall. Since the retirement of Mr. Roy Madeia in 2002, and Mr. William Kanute following him, the choruses are now conducted by Ms. Nancy Stewart.
Devoted members and friends are taking responsibility of maintaining and improving the facility. Some important highlights of their accomplishments: The need for an outdoor pavilion was brought to the attention of the membership through the foresight of some members and past President Alfred Fitzner and past Vice President Josef Herz. A pavilion was constructed at the rear of the club house building in 1994 and was later expanded in 1998. The pavilion has been a valuable asset, making it possible to host successfully the annual Staats Sängerfest in 1996 and 2001 at the club’s own facility. It also enables the Meriden Turner Society to hold many of their activities outdoors. Remodeling the interior of the clubhouse in 1997 was truly a work of art. The Stucco application was done by Fritz Wanner and the wood work was done by Willi Englert with a high level of craftsmanship.
Officers of the Meriden Turner Society accepted a request presented by Katharina Mayer, a member of the Ladies Chorus, to allow women to become voting members of the Turner Society. This request was approved and voted into the Bylaws in 1988. Since then women have been participating members at monthly meetings. Our founders would be proud to see that the membership is preserving the German Culture and activities.
Enhancing our German culture was the addition of the H.S.V. Bavaria Schuhplattlers who have called the Meriden Turner Society their home since January of 2010, and just recently celebrated their 50th Anniversary. The Turner Halle is used to practice dances for performances all over the country, as well as Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany in 2014. The Schuhplattlerfest in May celebrates the year for the group.
Not only singers and dancers, but many dedicated Turner members offer additional monthly events to which the public is invited. Several holiday dinner/dances, Biergarten picnics, Schlachtfests, and other activities reach out to the community for the continuation of German presence, and to raise monies needed to maintain our Halle and property. Our participation in the Meriden Daffodil Festival at the end of April is one of our biggest fundraisers.
As we reach 150 years of the Meriden Turners, our hope is to keep this Society a place to perpetuate the beauty and spirit of the German culture. We honor all those who founded and maintained our Verein for 150 years. We hope and pray that it and all it represents will continue well into the future.