The German-American Social Club of Cape Coral was founded as a non-political organization in July 1964 with a charter membership of 34. Willy Grützenbach, one of the prime movers in its formation, was elected to serve as president. The purpose of the Club, then and now, is to promote good fellowship with a variety of social activities, to perpetuate traditional German festivals such as Oktoberfest, Karneval, Costume Balls, Folk Dances, etc., and to stimulate interest in the German language and customs. Originally, the monthly meetings were held in the side rooms of the Cape Coral Yacht Club and the Club’s first few main festivals and dances were celebrated in the Cape Coral Fire Hall. As the membership grew, our meetings and social events were held in the main hall of the Cape Coral Yacht Club.
In 1969, the Club’s official banner depicting the insignia of our traditional main events – the ‘Münchner Kindl” and the ornate “Karneval Hats” was designed by Jack Fitzmaurice and handmade by Lucia Uhde and it is now proudly displayed on the stage of the “von Steuben Hall”. In 1970, when the membership had grown to 300, acreage was purchased on Pine Island Road. Through the hard work of many of the members, a road was built into this property and ground was cleared for a picnic area. The dedicated members were elated when the grounds were finally completed and the property was ready to be put to use.
In 1971 “Waltzing Waters”, operated by one of our Club mentors, Gunther Przystawik, was moved from its former location in the Rose Gardens to the German-American Club property. This was Cape Coral’s first tourist attraction and remained such until April 1982, when due to circumstances beyond our control, it was moved to another location.
In 1973 plans were formulated to build our own clubhouse. The members contributed both financially and physically to the construction of this fine building. On March 17, 1974, (Sunday) local dignitaries participated in the groundbreaking for the new clubhouse, using green painted shovels in tribute to St Patrick’s Day. Four hundred people attended the ceremony. In October 1975 the “von Steuben Hall” was officially dedicated; and in July 1976, the small Hall was named Edelweiss Hall and designated for the exclusive use of our members and their guests.
In January 1982 we had over 1,000 members and the Board of Directors decided to close the membership in order to prevent overcrowding our facilities. This was a temporary measure. A highlight in our recent history was the mortgage burning ceremony held in the “von Steuben Hall” on November 6, 1982. This event was combined with a gala dinner/dance at which the member stockholders were guests of honor. Our attractive picnic grounds were improved and enlarged by the diligent efforts of the Beautification Committee Members. These dedicated members constructed additional concrete tables and benches to accommodate the increasingly larger crowds that are drawn to our popular Bavarian Gartenfests which always provides everyone with delicious food and beer and a very enjoyable time with good American and German live music. In addition to the enlarged kitchen facilities near the grill, the food service area was revised and artistically embellished by two very talented members, Walter and Hilda Antlitz. The former “Waltzing Waters” gift shop, now called the Heidelberg Hall, was activated as an addition to our party space for meetings and social gatherings. This is the only hall on our property where BYOB was permitted. The “von Steuben Hall” was beautifully redecorated and new stage curtains were installed.
In 1984 a new larger bandstand, artistically decorated, was erected in our picnic area. Additional parking space was made available. In May 1984, a contest was held to adopt a club logo; the one submitted by William Tamedl was selected. It is visible on the banner-displayed on the “von Steuben Hall” stage, and was incorporated in our stationery, shirts, place mats, etc.
The club sponsors and supports Cape Coral Junior Soccer League team of youngsters aged eleven and under, which was coached for several years by Rudy Epperlein. The club participates in numerous community events and parades.
In March 1986, when club membership reached approximately 1,300, the Board of Directors voted to raise the initiation fee in an effort to slow the rapid growth we were experiencing at that time.
Klaus Kohl, an intuitive member, has been the leading influence in initiating and supervising our three-day Oktoberfest that has become a major event recognized by the City administration, business leaders and organizations, as well as the entire community. In October 1986, local dignitaries and German Consul from Atlanta and Miami participated in the opening ceremonies of our three-day outdoor Oktoberfest on the Club grounds, with approximately 10,000 people attending the three-day festival. A 30-piece band from Waltenhausen, West Germany was featured among others. In 1991 the Annual Oktoberfest was expanded to six days – two consecutive weekends.
In October 1992 the Club established an hour long radio program that was broadcast over a local station. The purpose of the radio program was to promote German culture among members of the community.
In 1992 the front of the clubhouse was redecorated and given a face-lift. Also in 1992, Bodo Degenhardt fabricated the crests of German cities and states that were installed on the West wall of the “von Steuben Hall”. In 1993 the Edelweiss Hall was extensively redecorated through the initiative of past president Uwe Kellner and his friend Josef Mahler, who did the artwork. In 1999 the East wall of the “von Steuben Hall” was redecorated in Alpine style decor by Walter Antlitz and the United States’ State Seals were provided by Bodo Degenhardt. The “von Steuben Hall” was further enhanced with 500 new dining chairs.
Our founder Willy Grützenbach
Willy Grützenbach was born in the city of Wuppertal, Germany in 1916. He worked in his father’s business, served in the German Army, married in 1941 and returned home safely in 1945. He says, “I was lucky, I ‘ve been lucky all of my life”.
ln 1951, he moved to the United States to Hackensack, New Jersey. One year later he moved to Plainfield, New Jersey and his wife joined him there where they opened a series of 6 “sweet shops”. Willy became acquainted with German American Clubs that were situated nearby. This experi ence planted the seed in his mind that didn’t ferminate until Willy and his wife moved south seeking the warmer climate of Florida, settling in Cape Coral in 1962.
During the year of 1963, Willy’s idea came to fruition when he described his ambition to start a local German American Club to 12 of his German American friends. With the kind of spirit that Willy still displays today, the 13 men held their first official meeting at the
Cape Coral Yacht Club with Willy becoming the club’s first president, ultimately serving a total of 15 years in that position. Willy and four of the other members drafted the club’s first set of by-laws. This new club was chartered in 1964 and a short time later, the members purchased 25 acres of land for the amount of $23,000, financed by the members with five-year notes that were repaid on schedule.
Sadly, our Willy passed away on November 19, 2013. He was 97 years old.
Willy’s four children, two daughters and two sons, who are rightfully proud of his overall accomplishments during his lifetime. His pride was subtle, never approaching a braggadocio level. Until his last days, Willy could still be seen at the club, with his bright smile and sparkle in his eye. If you asked him what he believed was the key to his many successes and his answer typically was – “I’m a lucky guy, I’ve been lucky all of my life”.