Tuesday, April 05, 2011

TOP STORY >> Clubhouse named for ex-alderman

Leader staff writer

To keep a secret from former Alderman Becki Vassar is like trying to move a mountain, nearly impossible. But that’s exactly what about 100 of her friends and city officials did Saturday.

The city council managed to approve a resolution Friday afternoon renaming the clubhouse at the city’s golf course after Vassar and arranged for a surprise roast and toast at the facility Saturday evening.

“I’m just speechless,” she said in awe and nearly in tears when she walked into the clubhouse thinking she was buying her daughter and granddaughter dinner there only to be met by a thunderous applause.

Vassar has considered saving the golf course as one of her greatest accomplishments in her 32 years on the council. “This is 106 acres of green space that we have saved for the use and enjoyment of future and present generations,” she said later in the evening.

“You really got me. This is all so wonderful,” she said, going from table to table hugging everyone she could.

“How long have you been planning this?” she asked Alderman Charlie Harmon.

“For months,” he said, adding that everything she did Saturday was orchestrated to keep her in the dark—and it almost fell apart 30 minutes before the surprise party.

Vassar’s daughter Lane West had taken her mom shopping at Hobby Lobby and JoAnn’s Fabric to keep her busy before the party. While out shopping, they bumped into a friend who had heard about the renaming and told Vassar she was excited about the good news. Just then, Lane hollered at her mom, “It’s over here, I found it, come quick,” to prevent her from finding out what the news was.

Then as the time arrived to head to the party, Vassar wasn’t quite through shopping, but Lane and Vassar’s granddaughter Paige made her get in the car.

“Where are we going?” Becki asked. “Don’t worry about it” was the reply and a short time later they pulled up to the clubhouse. “Do I need my purse?” Vassar asked. “Yes, you are buying us dinner,” Lane responded.

But dinner, cake and numerous stories were all on the crowd that showed up to honor Vassar for her work in obtaining the golf course.

Vassar was presented with a T-shirt signed by her friends that said “I’m retired, but I work part time as a pain in the butt.” She was also given an engraved silver serving tray.

Vassar, as the guest of honor, sat in a rocking chair on a small stage surrounded by knickknacks and memorabilia from her house. “How did you get all of my stuff?” she asked.

“We had Lane pilfer your house when you were gone on a trip,” Harmon said.

Harmon was one of many people who roasted and toasted Vassar. He recalled that he first met her when he was 16 and his car accidentally squealed its tires in front of her home. “I was only about 100 yards or so from my house, but in that short time she had already called my dad (former Mayor Bill Harmon) and I was grounded for a month. Yep, I knew her back then, but the B didn’t stand for Becki,” he quipped.

But when Harmon was elected to the council, he had two mentors—his dad and Vassar. “My dad said you were the person to listen to and to call first. In fact, Becki has told me numerous times, ‘You should have called me first.’”

Besides Harmon, other speakers included former aldermen Tom Brooks and Don Brown, golf pro Dawn Darter and friends Chris Jordan and Nan Gentry. Many others also came to the podium to make a toast or tell their favorite Becki story.

Bob Franks started off the night telling Becki that the group wanted to do something special for her for her 32 years of city service, plus her dedication to saving the golf course.

“The committee and everyone else thought long and hard. We wanted to give you a house on the golf course, but you’ve got that already. We wanted to get you a Mercedes, but you got one already. Then how about a golf cart, nope, got lots of them. So we got you a card and what is in the silver box,” Franks explained.

The musical card played, “Simply the Best,” and the present in the silver box was the silver serving tray.

Even though all the roasts were in fun and the toasts were a plenty for the veteran city council member, she was reminded that not everyone knows who she is. Vassar was the grand marshall for the 2010 Christmas parade and the professionally done sign on the vehicle carrying the waving Vassar through the streets spelled her name “Vassasr.”

Brooks called Vassar a true friend. “We go back a long ways. In fact we were elected to the council the same year, 1979, but I always remind you, Becki, that I am the younger.”

Brooks said that often they were on the same side of a political issue and sometimes on different sides. “But we always were able to work together and remain friends even when we were 180 percent opposite politically, even though Becki would say she was on the right side,” he said.

Darter, who grew up on the golf course from the age of 5, said, “No one deserves this night more than Becki.”

Brown told how he got great advice from Vassar when he was elected to the council. She told him, “If you are going to service your community, roll up your sleeves and expect a lot of hard work and a couple of good fights.”

“And boy was she right,” Brown said.

Jordan, who has known Vassar for more than 30 years, spent his time telling all the things that he wasn’t going to talk about, but did mention Vassar’s husband.

“For years, I thought her husband’s named was Vassar Vassar. She always called him by his last name, but there were times the octave level changed.”

He also said whenever it was election time, Vassar always had that stern talk with her children to walk a straight line, and she sent her husband away on some sort of project, making sure he didn’t come back until the polls closed.

Gentry, who is one of Vassar’s best friends, said the secret to being friends with Vassar is to remember one of Vassar’s philosophies, “My opinions may have changed, but not the fact that I am right.”

“Never did I envision this night,” Vassar said. “I had grand plans like more green space for the city and saving this golf course, but never did expect this, a clubhouse with my name on it. It’s not very often that I’m speechless, but this is one of those times.”