Marr Club readies for reunion, adds a Hall of Fame

The dedicated staff of the Colonel Daniel Marr Boys and Girls Club is a key reason why the youth center has become one of the neighborhood's most important assets since its creation in 1974. From left to right: Quenette Santos, Dave Bonnell, Bob Scannell, Bruce Seals, Mike Joyce and Mary Kinsella. Photo by Harry Brett

Since its opening in 1974, the Colonel Daniel Marr Boys and Girls Club has provided outstanding educational and recreational after-school and summer programs to Dorchester's youth, many of whom, including actor Mark Wahlberg, have the club to thank for their many successes.

On March 24, the club will celebrate its first official alumni reunion by inviting alums of all ages to catch up and remember their time spent shooting baskets and slap-shots and participating in the club's outdoor camping and field trips throughout their childhoods in Dorchester. It will also use the event to induct four longtime Marr Club boosters into a newly-created Hall of Fame.

"I love this place and what it does for the community," says Bob Scannell, Marr Club's executive director for nearly two decades. "For years we've wanted to put together an alumni association to reunite people, but this is the first year we've had time."

Since the 1970s, the Marr Club &endash; situated off of Dot Ave near Savin Hill- has served as stomping ground for adolescents and youths from all neighborhoods of Dorchester. Over the years, boys and girls from diverse ethnic backgrounds came to compete against one another in floor hockey and basketball games or to swim laps in the indoor pool. They viewed the club as a safe haven and a place to make life-long friends.

"There was never really one central school in Dorchester that everyone went to," said former member, volunteer and alumni co-chair Bill Forry, who is also the managing editor of this newspaper. "The Marr Club brought people from all points of the neighborhood to one central location to compete and hang out. It has a strong neighborhood identity, and for many of us, it's been an anchor when times have been tough in this part of the city. It's really helped to sustain the neighborhood and make it a better place."

The club officially became co-ed in 1983 and serves the same purpose for 4,000 boys and girls today that it did for members back then. However, the club's programs have expanded and now include a plethora of art, music, and tutoring courses in addition to recreational activities. The campus,which began with a single building on Deer Street in the 1970s, has grown to include the four-story Paul McLaughlin Youth Center, which fronts onto Dorchester Ave.

Members gather after school until 10 p.m. to gain extra help on homework from the dedicated group of 500 volunteers and staff members. Some teens also take private music lessons offered by students from the Berklee College of Music or participate in sculpture and painting classes at Marr Club's art center. High school juniors and seniors may enroll in the club's S.A.T. prep course and choose to attend both regional and national college tours. In the summertime, thousands of kids flock to the club for all-day activities and field trips, programming that has been hailed as among the city's finest and most effective tools to curbing youth delinquency.

Children enter the club as early as age six and may stay through age 18. Long time member and employee Mike Joyce worked a summer job at age 14 at the club and decided he never wanted to leave.

"I have been there since 1979," said Joyce, now vice president of programming for the club. "There was a need for youth programming at the time, and Bob and Dan Marr created the club in memory of their father."

From the very start, club directors have maintained a low membership fee ($5) in hopes of ensuring that no one is excluded from the many opportunities and facilities the club has to offer. The club continues to allow alums access to the gym and hopes in the future to provide classes and other opportunities as well.

The reunion is expected to draw as many as 300 alumni between the ages of 19 and up to the UMass-Boston Campus Center on the evening of March 24. Tickets sell for $20 and will help cover the cost of a comedian, food, dancing and a raffle that includes Red Sox tickets and a plasma screen television. Additionally, four alumni will be inducted into the Marr Club Hall of Fame: Fields Corner's Tom Gannon will be honored for his volunteerism; former member and staffer Kim Lewis will be inducted for her peer leadership; Carmelo Travieso, a former member who was a standout basketball player at UMass and for Puerto Rico's Olympic team will be the athletic entry; and Kevin Roach, who worked at the Marr Club through the 1990s, will be inducted as the first staff member in the Hall.

"We're hoping that, over time, this alumni effort will become a robust new way to help generate volunteers, donors and energy to help the club with its mission," said Forry, who along with his wife, State Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, is chairing the effort, with Mark Wahlberg serving as honorary chairman. "There are thousands of us out there who feel strongly about how the club helped us, and how they are helping the community today. This is a way for us to pitch in, have fun and re-connect with old friends."For more information about the reunion visit: