Article and photos by Carol Vogel
North of Oppenheim, there’s a hidden gem in the woods. On my way to meet Bill Hodges, the President of the Oppenheim Sprite Club, and other members, I made my way up Sprite Club Road and saw signs opening up to a log cabin-style clubhouse, an ample parking lot, and a large pond. The area is so picturesque, I could see why this is such a special place.
The Oppenheim Sprite Club was officially incorporated by the State of New York in 1935 by a group of local businessmen. Peter Hemmerich, the club secretary, was happy to share the history. “This pond is fed by the Little Sprite Creek, and back in the day, the original 35 founders decided to put up a dam and build a pond. Some early members were loggers and construction people, so they built the dam themselves in the late 30s after incorporation. And that is how it all got started.”
The property consists of 276 acres, including a 5-acre pond that is stocked each spring. “As part of the articles of incorporation, this club was formed as a social club and also to propagate and protect fish, wildlife, and forests,” Hemmerich added. “The club used to only be open from April 1 through Halloween, but now we encourage members to use the land for snowmobiling, and the clubhouse is open year round Thursday-Sunday”.
The Club parking lot was filled with cars, and the clubhouse was hopping. Bill Hodges couldn’t say enough about the staff. “We have a full-time cook, Betty Damin, and a full-time bartender, Dorinda Snyder. They’re great! Our cook is a great chef, and she always has 4-5 dinner specials for Thursday and Friday nights.” Dinners are served Thursday and Friday nights, and a bar menu is available all the time.
“We like to have a family atmosphere here. “ Bill continued. “A lot of people volunteer their time to the club. We’ve been here for 87 years, and a lot of people have put their heart and soul into this place to make it what it is today. I feel honored to be carrying on the tradition here as the President for three years. I love this place, I love what it stands for. I love the fact that my kids can come here someday with their kids to take them fishing or take them to the shooting range or out hunting or ride their snowmobiles here. It’s a great place for families to come.”
Membership is $150 per year – and includes catching up to 20 fish in the stock pond and usage of the Clubhouse and land. They have a shooting range and allow members to hunt snowmobile, and rent space for up to 50 people for weddings, grad parties, and other events.
The club holds fundraising parties such as pig roasts and clam bakes, as well as raffles to help with projects on the property. Last year the clubhouse kitchen was completely remodeled. They continue to raise money for any needed repairs, such as the upkeep of the clubhouse, dam, and bridges.
“I know people are having hard times right now,” Bill commented. “Everything is going up in price. Although our costs have gone up on food and drinks, we’re trying to keep our prices the same, including our membership. So doing these different events helps offset the cost to members.”
With so many resources on the property, the club relies on the skills and expertise of its members to help with projects. About ten years ago, a large project was repairing the dam. Don Denapole remembers spearheading the project and many members volunteering to help the cause. “The dam had a leak in it, and we completely reconstructed the dam. We worked with Fulton County Soil and Water on it. We had to build a new bridge over Sprite Creek, and we got the bridge done, and we got the dam done. Dick Smith and I took the bull by the horns to get that fixed.” The project cost was $20K, and the club was able to raise $18k of that with a party and raffles.
The clubhouse is a comfortable spot to hang out and chat, have a drink, and eat. It’s also where members can come together to help their community and each other. “It’s more than just a bar. It’s more than just a place to get food – it’s a family,“ said Bill.
The Sprite Club donates one-third of the profits from its Pull-Tab machine to local charities like the Food Pantry, Oppenheim Fire House, the School, and Toys for Tots, among others. They also hold benefits to raise money for members in need. This is definitely a family environment where everyone takes care of each other. “We’ve got a lot of kind-hearted people here that give back,” Bill added.
There’s a lot of family tradition within the club. Janet Cool, the club treasurer, told me about her grandfather Guy Stowell being a charter member and gifting land to the club. Donna Boucher said, “I’ve been coming here since I was seven years old! My Dad was a member for 44 years.”
Don Denapole has a deep family connection with the club and has been a member for many years. “My Grandfather used to be caretaker there in mid-1950. In those days, there were only about 50 members, and they were all elite people. They were all doctors, lawyers, and businesspeople. And I remember as a little boy it was a club decision not to have a telephone in the clubhouse because they wanted to be left alone.”
Don also remembers the Icehouse, which housed blocks of ice cut from the pond. “I do remember there were feet of sawdust to insulate the ice. I can remember members going out, shoveling through the sawdust, and getting big blocks of ice in the middle of July and bringing them in, washing them off. That’s what they used for cooling and drinks etc. I thought that was pretty unique.”
Events & Happenings
Events are happening throughout the year at the Sprite Club. “We get involved in the poker runs other clubs are holding during the winter, so we like to be a stop during those,” Bill said. The club members don’t only have a sense of community, they have a sense of humor too. They’ve even had outhouse races on the frozen pond!
Besides holiday parties and special events, the club offers opportunities for its members to learn new or enhanced skills in safety training. Recently, the club held a pistol training course for women. Previously, they had offered hunter safety courses and are currently looking for someone to teach so they can offer them again.
The Sprite Club is always growing and adding to its amenities. “We’ve identified about seven campsites so we can make it so members can camp,” Bill commented. A renovation of the caretaker’s quarters on the property as a rental space is also on the list for future improvements, as well as remodeling the large dining room addition.
If you’re interested in becoming a member of the Oppenheim Sprite Club, call Bill Hodges at 518-362-6980 for a tour. The club is located at 363 Sprite Club Road, Oppenheim.