By JOE SUTTER
When the Fort Dodge Assembly club was founded, the Great Depression was still lingering, gas was 10 cents a gallon and most people still thought 78-rpm records were a pretty neat idea.
The club is now celebrating its 75th year of bringing classy dance and socialization to town.
The Assembly will celebrate its anniversary at its first dance of the season, Sept. 7 at the Fort Dodge Country Club. The meal will be provided by The Cellar, and the Des Moines band FreeStyle will provide the music.
“The idea is to get people together to socialize, have a good time, listen to good music,” said club President David Bradley.
The club was founded in the fall of 1938 and held dances four to five times a year, initially at the Wahkonsa Hotel’s ballroom.
The group’s numbers have dwindled in the last few years, but former long-time members of the club say it was once filled to capacity.
“There was a waiting list,” Bradley said.
“You’d get voted in,” said Margie Loomis. “You’d wait two or three years after your name was put in.”
An unlimited number of single people could join, but the club’s bylaws limited the group to 100 couples.
Once in, members had to dress the part at every dance.
“It was always a formal affair,” said Eddy O’Farrell.
“Tuxedos and fancy dresses,” added Diane Burch.
Tuxedos weren’t required, but “there got to be a dress code. Men had to wear a tie at least, and a dark suit,” said Bradley.
Sometimes dress was more whimsical, with themed costume parties. The club dressed in Western style for one dance and celebrated the 1920s at another.
“In the ’50s, they really went way out,” O’Farrell said, with a circus theme.
“I went as a clown. I was pregnant,” said Burch.
“One of the things that was special about it was they’d have live music. Always bands,” O’Farrell said.
FreeStyle is exactly the kind of band the club enjoys, Bradley said.
“They’re probably a seven-piece band,” he said. “They’re not the teenybopper crowd. They’re the senior people that know good music.
“They’ll play waltzes, a variety of things. The first set was always a waltz, it picks up gradually as the night goes on, but they could always drift back.”
O’Farrell always loved the club “just to hear the good music because, you can’t get it anywhere else. And I love to dance.”
It’s “live music, band music where you don’t have to put your fingers in your ears,” Bradley said.
“Assembly has provided the highlights of each social season in Fort Dodge with the exception of the war years, from 1943 to 1946,” said board member Pat Hill, reading from the club’s records. “However during those years it did not disband, but it kept its same officers and membership, resuming again in the fall of 1946.”
Servicemen would come from out of town to attend the dances, Burch said.
“Some of those guys looked so beautiful in uniform,” she said.
The club wasn’t just about the good music; it also brought people together.
“When we first belonged, if you sat a table with 12 people, every guy there would dance with every woman,” Loomis said. “That’s just what you did.”
“And you’d get to know people you never thought you’d ever know,” said Burch. “You sat with your friends, but everybody mingled.”
Anyone looking to join the club can contact any of the board members to have their name considered. Dues were set at just $10 per couple in 1938, but now run $200 per year.
Although so much has changed, the modern members of the club are working hard to make sure that the dance still goes on.
“We’re trying to revive it,” Hill said.
The club provides something lacking in today’s world, Bradley said.
“You sit down and see somebody once every month, every two months, get together socially and have a nice meal,” he said, “and maybe dance with somebody else, besides your significant other, and talk.”