The Significance of Our Club
The Benton Club was founded May 27, 1887 by Winslow Judson and a group of some forty like-minded gentlemen of the community for the purpose, as characterized by the late chronicler of St. Joseph history Sheridan Logan, of establishing a social club comprised of business and professional leaders for mutual ease of access and friendly association. Later, in 1894 when the club was incorporated, additional purposes were articulated to include:
…furnishing facilities for bringing together, as often as may be, gentlemen in commercial, manufacturing, and professional pursuits in the City of St. Joseph, for educational purposes through the discussion of all general, educational and scientific subjects, and the reading of papers, magazines, periodicals and books of scientific, literary and financial character, and the submission of original essays and papers, and the discussion of the same from time to time, upon all themes tending to train, stimulate and develop the mental and moral faculties of its members, especially such as have a trend for the benevolence, good will and morality in the community…
Remarkably, such lofty ambitions remain fundamental passions of the Benton Club’s membership; lectures on diverse subjects are yet given and the daily and evening discourse over luncheon and dinner service often turns to community affairs, important issues of the day and opportunities for the betterment of the city. The Club also makes its facilities available to certain community groups for their regular meetings, such as Downtown Rotary, Lions Club and the Buchanan County Medical Society.
The Benton Club is named for Thomas Hart Benton, United States Senator from Missouri from
1821 – 1851; the first to serve that body for five terms. While his illustrious colleagues in the Senate, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, remain known today for their brilliant advocacy of special and unique interests, Senator Benton represented broad and vastly democratic ideals on behalf of farmers, small independent businessmen and laborers. Senator Benton favored gold coin as opposed to paper money. Soft currency (paper or credit), in his opinion, favored wealthy Easterners at the expense of the small farmers and trades people of the West. Senator Benton proposed a law requiring payment for federal land in hard currency only; defeated in Congress but later enacted by the executive order of President Andrew Jackson. Benton’s advocacy for hard currency earned him the nickname “Old Bullion;” which today is the name of the Benton Club’s newsletter.
Many years later Thomas Hart Benton, the famous Missouri regionalist painter and descendent of the Senator, regaled Club members over dinner, where he expounded upon the virtues of “bourbon and branch water” – leaving a lasting impression in his wake.
The Benton Club was established in the tradition of many “City Clubs” scattered among the great cities of this nation. Social in nature, but not encumbered by amenities such as golf courses, tennis courts or other elaborate athletic facilities, they were, and continue to be places where ideas are exchanged over lunch in the course of the work day and pleasantries are exchanged over cocktails in the evening. In such a setting, generations of young men and women have their first experiences meeting and dining in a more formal setting with those already established and accomplished in careers before setting off on their own path; families commemorate the milestones of life – seudat mitzvahs, weddings, the passing of loved ones; friendships are cemented for a lifetime.
The Benton Club is little changed from the vision established for it a century and a quarter ago. The bylaws have provided for generations of membership to address their needs as any well-devised constitution would. Today, the Benton Club is pleased that men and women alike share in the privileges and responsibilities of membership.
House rules, of course, are somewhat more fluid and may be modified from time to time by the Board of Directors to ensure the mutual well-being of the Club and her members. A favorite anecdote about rules of the Benton Club is associated with Rule Number Eleven, “No animals will be allowed in the clubhouse.” Contrary to one’s imagination, this rule was not established as a result of reprimand from the board of health. The popular story credits the actions of a late member and his spouse for the imposition of Rule Eleven. It seems, the story goes, that some half-century ago the couple presented in the clubhouse ballroom for a costume party dressed as Roy Rogers and Dale Evans – on horseback!
It will be for our children to discern the context of this year with the benefit of hindsight. One thing is certain; the Benton Club is 125 years old. While clubs in cities of far greater population and economic resources failed to emerge from the Great Depression and failed to navigate changes in tax laws, cultural shifts and evolving social norms, the Benton Club remains. The Benton Club’s existence may seem improbable to some, but has been held certain by the devotion of her members. Her members have every reason to celebrate.