With World War II ending in 1945, a group of local clergy and educators shared a vision for a recreation center where the young people of the Christian Reformed Churches could meet and mingle with the youth of other Christian Reformed churches in the Grand Rapids area. In May of 1947 the first organizational meeting of the Christian Youth Center (CYC) was held in the gymnasium of Oakdale Christian School. A board of directors was appointed and a constitution adopted.
Discussions were held as to what kinds of activities should be offered. Some of the possibilities entertained included a roller rink, bowling alley, field games, clubhouse or a gymnasium. An initial outlay of $200,000 to $250,000 was budgeted.
In May of 1949 the board voted to purchase a 7.5 acre piece of land which was to become the site for the CYC. The land was located on 28th Street, midway between Madison and Eastern Avenues, on the north side of the street. (At this time 28th Street was only a two-lane road.)
The summer of 1950 one lighted diamond was ready along with land cleared for parking and an access road. There were 18 Young Men’s Society teams and six teams representing the Young Women’s Societies who played that year on that single diamond. There were no restrooms and no concession stand. Bleachers were rented from the City Parks Department for that year. Interest was high after this first summer of activity. The board was already looking ahead to the next year to see what could be added after this humble beginning.
The summer of 1951 saw significant changes. There were 28 teams playing on two diamonds. A concession stand had been built which included restrooms and storage. During each night of play a hat would be passed to collect monies for the maintenance of the facility. Two Saturday night hymn sings were also held to raise additional funds. A total of $550 was collected by those two means that summer. Dave Tuuk was also hired that summer as manager of the CYC to perform duties which included organizing the softball leagues, taking care of the grounds and performing other related tasks.
By 1953 there was also a swing set, slide and four basketball goals in use on the grounds as well as a volleyball area and shuffleboard courts. Board fences in the outfield included 21 advertisers’ logos. There were 30 teams involved in the softball program that summer.
The following summer, 1954, there were 37 teams and the lighted basketball courts were in use every evening.
In 1955 an experimental league for slow pitch was started with a 16-inch ball and no gloves. The game had originated in Chicago, and the CYC was the first place in Grand Rapids where the game was played. During the same year a select group of softball all-stars was chosen to represent the Youth Center and a double header rivalry was started with a group of Christian all-stars from the Illiana area, near Lansing, Illinois. Large crowds turned out to watch softball at its best.
A miniature golf course was built in 1956, creating competition for John Loek’s mini golf course at the old Beltline Drive-In Theatre. The CYC charged 25 cents per round and over $2,000 was generated each summer, enabling the CYC to make other improvements. Sunday night hymn sings were also still held on occasion.
The year 1958 became an important time in the history of the CYC. The diamonds were full every night with three games each, so the board began to think of moving to a new site in order to expand the program. Joe Duthler approached the board with an offer of $100,000 for the property. This proposal made sense, since it meant taking a site which initially had cost $22,500 and selling it for $100,000 only nine years later.
A search for property turned up an excellent possibility when a 60 acre parcel of an 80 acre farm owned by John Marsman became available on the southeast corner of Schaffer and 36th Street. After extensive negotiations an offer was made and accepted for $30,000, or $500 an acre.
At the close of the 1958 season the 28th Street Christian Youth Center was dismantled and the big moving process began. Everything was moved, including fencing, railroad ties, back stops, poles, lights and playground equipment. By mid-June of 1959 three diamonds were put in play and the season began.
In 1960 the name was changed to the “Christian Reformed Recreation Center” to reflect the family atmosphere that was becoming evident.
Since that time the Rec Center has continued to make improvements to the facility. Some milestones include the purchase of another 60 acres, the development of the first nine holes of Fellowship Greens, the construction of the senior’s center and golf house and the development of the last nine holes of the golf course. In 1982 a high of 247 teams were playing softball each week.
For more interesting facts and anecdotes, please see “Doxology: A History of the Christian Youth Center and the Christian Reformed Recreation Center from 1948-2001” by Dave Tuuk. The above article was written with excerpts from this book.