SHERIDAN — A longtime charitable organization in the Tongue River area is looking to expand its membership and continue its long tradition of community service.
The Dayton School Benefit Club began in the 1930s as a “ladies club.” Though it has had different names over the years, the club’s mission has always been to “aid school and community activities”.
As with many long-standing organizations, the club is in need of new members to continue its mission. There are currently 25 members, about 17 of which are active members.
“These ladies were the people who took care of the community,” Teri Luskin, the club’s current president, said about the importance of the club through the past eight decades. “In the 1950s, there was no lunch program in the Dayton school so these ladies got together and, as many ladies clubs did back then, raised money to provide lunches for school kids.
“Then it blossomed out and they had fundraisers and provided scholarships for a Tongue River student every year. And we do funeral dinners for people that pass away in the community for no charge.”
The $500 annual scholarship alternates between a single student one year and a contribution to the Tongue River Family Career and Community Leaders of America group at the high school the next year to help with expenses they incur when traveling to competitions.
Luskin grew up in Ranchester, but lived most of her adult life in upstate New York, before moving to Dayton seven years ago. She was invited to join the organization two years ago and was recently re-elected president. She said many women have been members of the club for 60 years or more.
“It is neat because these ladies have great stories about growing up here and raising their families,” she said. “You get a lot of history lessons.”
She said the organization is actively recruiting new members, but faces difficulties since many women work full-time jobs and have limited time to volunteer for charitable endeavors. However, she said the time commitment is minimal, with just one meeting per month and annual dues are only $5. She also said the club will accept “helpers” who don’t attend the monthly meetings, but offer to help with occasional events during the year.
The group holds several small fundraisers each year, but a primary source of income is the rental of its well-known community hall.
The building, constructed in 1936, received designation on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005 after the lengthy submission process was completed by member Lucille Alley, her daughter Carol Swift and Pete Hager.
The building was a project of the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps. The Dayton Town Council had recognized the need for a building to host community meetings and gatherings and also to serve as a gymnasium for the local school, which did not have one.
After being denied local funding from the county due to the Depression, the council put in a request to the WPA. The project was approved and construction took approximately one year, and employed 47 people, or about 10 percent of Dayton’s population.
According to an informational booklet compiled in 2000 by the club, “Lodge pole pines, grown in the Big Horn Mountains and indigenous to the area, were cut and manually peeled with draw knives, loaded onto CCC trucks and hauled to the building site.
Four hundred logs were used in the body of the building, each costing $1. One hundred eighty ceiling poles were utilized at a cost of 75 cents each.”
Once completed the building served as a hub of community activity, from hosting school basketball and volleyball games to polio vaccinations clinics and serving as a polling station.
During World War II, the Red Cross organized local war efforts out of the building and members of the club assembled lunch and donut care packages to deliver to soldiers passing through Sheridan.
One memorable use of the building was for Saturday night community dances.
“Every Saturday night my mom put on her stilettos and everyone from Dayton and Ranchester went to the dances,” said Luskin. “They were a huge, huge thing. I remember my mom and dad got dressed up and I don’t know how she danced till three or four in the morning in those heels!”
The building is still available for community events and is rented out for various functions such as weddings, family reunions, wedding or baby showers and graduation parties. Rental fees for the building are the main source of income used to do maintenance and improvements on the building. The fee is $175 with a $100 refundable deposit.
The appeal of the building lies not only in its unique history, but its amenities as well. In an era of plastic plates and silverware, the facility offers a more formal setting.
“It has the full hall, a stage, a full kitchen equipped with real dishes, real silverware, real glasses and two really nice modern restrooms,” said Luskin.
In addition, for a $3 charge, starched and ironed table linens are available for use. Use of tables and chairs is included in the rental price and the facility has room for 165 occupants. There is a PA system and a large working stone fireplace.
“It is a beautiful little place,” said Luskin. “It really is a lovely, lovely place. We did the Sheridan County Commissioners dinner this year and half of the commissioners didn’t even know the place existed. They said ‘this is the most awesome little place!’”
Anyone interested in renting the building or participating in the club as a member or occasional volunteer at events, can contact Teri Luskin at 655-9366 or Carol Masters at 655-9631.