The inland waterway had slashed through the winding sleepy Caloosahatchee by 1958, when Fred Dueker came looking for a spot to create his dream community. He found a bit of both old and new in the lovely old river oxbow loop, as it curved around a tree covered island and there was born River Forest!
By early 1965, there was a causeway of sorts, gated to keep in the foliage cropping goats. Twenty-three homes bordered River Forest Drive, Lazy Lane, and Sleepy Hollow with three canals completed. This was to be a special place, where its people could live in lasting beauty and peace. That they might have a voice in keeping it so a meeting was held on February 9th to form a River Forest Community Association, to be known as RIFCA. Nominated by Dewey Potts, Paul Wirick was installed as our first president. The certificate of Incorporation and charter of the association were filed with the Florida Secretary of State on April 2, 1965.
Meetings and social gatherings were held in members' homes or on the "swim pool lot" (site of the Bez home). Here was held the first Fourth of July picnic, where Ann Albreicht arranged an elaborate ham and bean feast for all to enjoy. The first pot luck planned for the same site was rained out and hastily reassembled at the Dueker home. The unpredictability of Florida weather thus convinced RIFCA members of the need for their own sheltered meeting hall.
1966 dawned with Charles Ogden at the helm; forty-eight RIFCA members; the books showing $369.45 in funds; and a River Forest, Inc. (Fred Dueker) promise of a site for the club area, plus $3000 for construction.
The "what and where" of the clubhouse location was still to be decided. With unfailing optimism, a planning and building committee was set up consisting of Chairman Charles Albrecht, Fred Dueker, Bill Myers and Charles Ogden.
The present site was decided on by midyear, and on September 14, 1966, River Forest, Inc. leased Lot 171B to RIFCA for 99 years at $1 per year.
Clubhouse plans were completed. Originally the shell construction was to include finish only of the main hall, kitchen and two restrooms. But it was deemed financially advisable to complete the entire building. This was accomplished by an additional loan from River Forest, Inc. of $8000, to be repaid over the years by bonds purchased by RIFCA members, and by the diligent labors of every able-bodied club member.
Ground was broken in October 1966. Under the supervision of Charles Albrecht, a select crew of his Lehigh craftsmen has the shell completed and enclosed by late December.
New Year's Eve was just around the corner. We had the roof over our heads, and it is time for celebration. With less than a week to go, a used range and refrigerator were installed. Shades were made to cover the bare light bulbs. Every home offered card tables and chairs. With the aid of holiday decorations and tiki lamps to welcome guests, we were ready for our first party. Our club has hosted many delightful gatherings through the past years, but the goodwill and thrill of accomplishment made December 31, 1966, a night to be long remembered.
With so many building plans complete, the 1966 slate of officers was asked to serve a second term. Again under the leadership of Charles Ogden, 1967 got underway. EVERYONE set to work. Doors were hung; cabinets built and installed; counters, sink and bar completed. Tables were built for dining; tiles and fixtures set in the guestrooms.
It is impossible here to name the ones who put all this together. Each member had a part whether by offering time, labor or donations. By March 1967 we were ready for an all out painting and cleanup party. The clubhouse had been in use through all of this activity. The first Canasta group met in January; the first general club meeting and the first pot-luck were held in February; the first Bingo was held in March; and Hobby activities were in full swing.
The guestrooms were being worked on with whatever was available in the way of donations. Furniture was painted, curtains hung and rugs made from floor samples. By November, the rooms were ready for their first occupants.
1968 under the leadership of Charles Wright and 1969 with Bain Sullivan as president, were catch-up years. Monthly board meetings and quarterly general meetings replaced the former unscheduled business gatherings. There were many social and fund-raising activities. Air-conditioners were installed in the guestrooms. The library was starting with a single bookcase. In August, 1969, the first issue of the monthly newsletter was delivered.
In 1970, Harry Anderson took over the presidency. His first task was to reorganize activities for better use of the clubhouse and greater attendance at fund raising functions. Row Monitors were appointed for the first time. Questionnaires were distributed to determine the wishes of the members. Hobby Class was revitalized with promise of a Fall Bazaar. The Men's Dinner was inaugurated. A fund was set up for the much-needed air-conditioning of the main hall.
Under the leadership of Raleigh Lancaster, 1971 was to be the year of acoustic and central air-conditioning. This was completed, with many volunteer hours, by March 1971. The boat dock was completed; TV sets were purchased for the guestrooms, a large club storage area added and the efficiency porch screened.
1972 saw Bill Clark installed as President. The community was growing rapidly. In October, the desirability of RIFCA owning the clubhouse land, as opposed to leasing, was discussed. A survey was completed and accepted by Fred Dueker and on November 19, 1972, River Forest, Inc. sold lot 171B to RIFCA via Warranty Deed. The title is granted only for the life of the organization.
1973 and 1974 were under the able leadership of Dick Warrington. The guestrooms were redecorated. The kitchen was refurbished with two new stoves, new refrigerator, new counter tops and a very comfortable vinyl floor covering. An automatic dishwasher was generously donated. The updated kitchen so simplified preparation of the Men's Dinners that their popularity increased to almost 100 guests. As more space was needed to accommodate the overflow the long discussed enclosure of the porch had become imperative. Once again, volunteers to the rescue. Dick and his crew of hard working RIFCA members got the job done in time for the December 1975 Men's Dinner.
In 1975, Joe Peake presided over the 10th anniversary of RIFCA. A blood bank was started; the Garden Cub was begun by Fran Kendig; the by-laws were updated by Vice President Bil Hilger; an air conditioning fund for the enclosed porch was begun; and the one and only Joe's Damm Shipwreck Party was held.
The Bicentennial year of our country was celebrated under the leadership of Lou Chamberlin in 1976. The porch area was paneled and the porch air conditioning installed. A watering system was installed for the planting at the entrance. The Architectural Committee's rules were clarified and strengthened.
Bob McWilliams continued our strong leadership as President in 1977. The outside of the clubhouse was refurbished and repainted. Lot 171A, to the east of the clubhouse was accepted from Fred Dueker. Community security was stressed and all club property was inventoried and marked.
A double term of office for President Bill Rosenquist in 1978 and 1979 led to one of our biggest periods of growth, 170 RIFCA members at the end of two busy years! The interior of the clubhouse was repainted and attractively wallpapered. Tile flooring in the main meeting room, additional library shelving and the beginning of the outside barbecue only a few of the many improvements accomplished under Bill's able leadership.
1980 will always be remembered as the Year of the SEWERS, when we all contended with blocked roads, clouds of dirty dust, stacks of pipe all over the community and cut water mains. President Bill Dunlap sponsored a Sewer Party to help us forget our antagonists, but Mr. Vito and Mr. Gianetti's memory lingers on in our deteriorating roads. Outside of the club, the driveway was repaved. Inside new drapes and entryway furniture were installed. The cover was built over the outside barbecue and electricity installed.
Our first lady President, Jean Olexy, graciously presided over 1981. The Donna Rooms were redecorated and two paddle fans were installed in the kitchen. Dues were increased to $35 per person to become effective in 1983. A "Past Presidents' Night" was held in their honor and each one was presented with a plaque.
In 1982, under President Neil Redmond, River Forest was divided into five sectors, each sector to be responsible for two dinners and two pot luck dinners per year and each to be represented on the Board. Deeds of restrictions were sent to all residents.
The year 1983 was begun without a president, but Wally Duke soon volunteered to fill the job and was ratified at a general meeting in May. An amendment was made to the by-laws to provide for continuity in the event the office of presidency is not filled. RIFCA became an active force in the drive to four-lane and improve State Road 80. Efforts were made to get all residents to participate in matters of interest to the community.
1984 our first year without a President. The position of Acting President was held for three months each by Directors Dick Warrington, Lou Knipling, Ed Bedat and Vice Den Hood. New foundation plants were put in front of the clubhouse and a contract was entered into for maintenance of the entranceway. Double stainless steel sinks and a disposal were installed in the kitchen.
1985 our 20th Anniversary year, began with Den Hood at the helm as President. The last five years for RIFCA have been busy and fruitful. The unsecured debt for the original clubhouse construction was paid off. Dr. Hill and Lyn provided flu shots at a nominal cost to the clubhouse.
A double term of office for our second lady President, Laura Fernandez, in 1986 and 1987, initiated the pleasant addition of guest speakers or performers following the monthly dinners. A long range planning committee was formed, also a committee on legislative affairs, regarding issues that would be of interest to our community. New air conditioning and a refrigerator were installed.
Another ably served double term of office followed with Hal Edwards presiding during 1988 and 1989.
The deed restrictions for Unit 1, which were about to expire, were legally renewed and copies were sent to all Unit 1 River Forest residents. A new mailbox and planter stand where erected by the driveway entrance and decorated with plants, adding some lovely color.
A memorial plaque to Fred Dueker, founder of River Forest, was installed at the clubhouse entry. This was purchased entirely through donations of his many friends who wished to remember him.
1990 Bob McWilliams once again assumed the Presidency of RIFCA. A Silver Anniversary banquet celebrated 25 years of association growth. The Pancake Breakfasts were started this year under the direction of Lin Hill. There were 141 active members and 168 lovely residences and only 22 empty lots.
Through 1991 and 1992 President Dan Tait, with able assistance of club member's "muscle and money", reworked the kitchen and bar area off the clubhouse. Bar area was expanded for more work and storage space, including a dishwasher and new counters. New stoves, cabinet doors and fresh vinyl flooring brightened the kitchen. Opal Fuston painted a tropical mural to enhance the bar front. Installation of a pull down ladder eased access to the attic. Initiation fee of $75.00 reduced to $5.00 because of the economy. Dues remain at $45.00 per year. An AARP 55-alive driving course was initiated.
In 1993 Shirley Peake volunteered to be the President. Monthly guest speakers were introduced following potluck dinners. Plumbing problems caused interior flooding in the clubhouse resulting in new carpeting being installed in the guestrooms and porch area. Keys were distributed for the new lock on the front door.
In 1994 President Ken Kitchen designated a handicapped parking space near the front door. Open Cards evening and Nickel Bingo nights were scheduled. A light was installed by the flagpole for our national colors to fly for 24 hours a day. The Gardenia Garden Club was given permission to use the clubhouse. The 50/50 raffle started. Ten round tables were gifted to RIFCA in memory of Dr. Calmar. Activity sign at front entrance was installed.
In 1995 RIFCA President, Norm Mayes, presided over the thirtieth year of Association activities. His specialty, baking homemade wheat rolls for clubhouse dinners, was enjoyed by all RIFCA members. The members also enjoyed the Diamond Jubilee Party celebrating the 30th Anniversary hosted by Norm. Initiation fees were suspended.
President Bud Hanson, oversaw many RIFCA improvements in 1996 and 1997. Motion detectors were installed around the clubhouse perimeter. The outside barbecue grill was converted from charcoal to natural gas cooking. A large screen TV was purchased. A "Deed Restricted Community" sign was posted at the entranceway and copies of the deed restrictions were sent by certified mail to all residents.
In 1998 Vice President Sheila Zakens assumed leadership when Dick Fitzgerald resigned. During the year the clubhouse interior was redecorated. A much larger newsletter, with paid ads, was printed and distributed (at net cost) to all River Forest residents. The community entranceway was replanted and a sprinkler system installed. Ty and Lin Hill initiated a used aluminum collection for recycling. Outside guests may be welcomed one or two times, as reservations were available, with the hope they would like to join RIFCA and become active members.
In 1999 Bud Hanson volunteered to assume the Presidency again. A new telephone was installed in the clubhouse. The driveway was resurfaced. Joe Fanelli and Bill West began a computer class. A gala New Years Eve party ushered our Association from the nineteen hundreds into the new millennium, with high hopes for much success for RIFCA in the future.
2000 Hal Edwards and Norm Mayes worked with others to put new shingles on the barbeque shelter. Mike Pastuck installed remote-controlled overhead lights with fans in the main hall.
2002 Under Presidents Bill West, Doug Pritchard and Fred Weiszmann, a fund was developed to put a new roof on the clubhouse. New tile was laid in the kitchen and bar area and the kitchen was redecorated. The old sign on the front of the building was taken down.
President in 2004-2005 was Doug Pritchard. Doug maintained the Directory data base and worked hard to keep it up-to-date. Along with Florence Pritchard they started 'Lending Hands' to bring the community together to help neighbors in need. They also directed the 'File-of-Life' campaign for the community. Pot-Luck Players were active through these years keeping us entertained during clubhouse dinners. Joy and Larry Freeswick initiated the first Easter Dinner at the clubhouse.
2006-2007 Fred Weiszmann was President. 2006 was the 1st Annual Barbecue held by the Men's Club. Fred was very much a forward thinking President with a creative vision. He began research to bring a WiFi base to River Forest and personally funded the start-up costs. He also worked to maintain the Deed Restrictions. Investigation into security cameras at the entranceway was started. Outside lighting was added to the clubhouse. Our RIFCA website rifca.net was born with Florence Pritchard our new webmaster. Doug Pritchard oversaw the painting of the clubhouse from white to green, and the new roof was completed. Omar Sickles installed the new lock system on the front door.
A new sign was completed for the front of the clubhouse by Bob and Jan Croson. Gold hand carved letters complete with a Bird-of-Paradise flower. Dues remain $75.00 for a single person and $150.00 per family. A new tower was installed to update the Wi-Fi. Dona rooms were redecorated and a new air conditioner was installed in the Efficiency room along with a new tile floor.
2008-2009 Omar Sickles is President. New round tables (10 large and 4 small) were purchased for the clubhouse. New hot water tank installed in the storage room. Remodeled the clubhouse storage room to much needed repair and to correct major problems with the power feed into the building.
Wallpaper was removed in the main room and new paint completed under the direction of Joe Bedoe. Security cameras are up and working. Jan Croson started a campaign with a 'chair thermometer' in the club entrance to monitor donations. New tile in Dona Room B. Dues increased to $100 for a single person and $200 per family. Under June Boyko's direction River Forest Cookbooks are completed and proved to be a hugh success. The 'chair thermometer' finally met its goal and 80 new dining chairs were purchased for RIFCA just in time for the New Years Celebration.
2010 Mike Edmondson is President. Street lights are finally installed in River Forest. A new air conditioner was installed in the main dining room orchestrated by Bill Pella. June Miller retires from her celebrated column "Meet Your Neighbor". Bob and Jan Croson, along with a RIFCA team, organized renovations to the bathrooms including new tile plus tile down the hall and entranceway. New concrete walkways were laid. Concrete picnic tables added to the back yard.
President Gene Hamilton came into office for 2011-2012. Carpet at entrance to clubhouse was replaced with tile. The entrance to River Forest was newly re-landscaped. Major repairs included: repairing roof dormers and soffets, painting, gutter replaced, trenches cut and pipe laid for new sprinkler system, replaced the flagpole. A new refrigerator was purchased, and landscaping was finally completed for the front of the clubhouse.
2013-2014 Bob Croson is President. A yearly 'Calendar of Events' was started. The carpet on the patio/bar area was removed and tile laid throughout. RIFCA By-Laws were amended and brought up to date. The Wi-Fi system and Security Cameras had major upgrades. A trench was dug and power lines installed to the security system so that the club now has a dedicated line. Under the direction of Joe Bedoe the outside of the clubhouse was completely repainted.
The new "Social Membership" was passed by the board and the community at the Annual Dinner Meeting. The interior wall of the clubhouse under the windows was repaired and new windows installed across the front of the building. Major structural renovation on the outside of the clubhouse was accomplished.
Greetings to those who have made RIFCA the friendly and caring association it is today. And, with a cheerful "Hello" to new members, friends and neighbors, we take a moment to fondly remember those no longer with us who helped to make RIFCA what it is today.
We can take pride in celebrating 50 years of RIFCA -- that is not an easy task for an all volunteer organization. Let us continue to make our River Forest Clubhouse a place where neighbors can meet for friendship, companionship, and fun.