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German-American club reaches out to community

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY—The history of German-Americans in Santa Cruz County is a long one. Many came west during the Gold Rush and moved to the coast for better opportunities. German businessmen, including Claus Spreckels, were instrumental in developing parts of the county. The Pajaronian was founded by a German immigrant in 1868.

And almost as long as Germans themselves have been in Santa Cruz, so has the German-American Club of Santa Cruz. As far back as the 1860s the club was active, eventually incorporating officially in 1888.

“The German immigrant influence in Santa Cruz is far greater than I think people realize,” said Dennis Reader, longtime member and newsletter editor of the club. “There is lots of history here.”

The nonprofit club operates out of the German-American Hall, 230 Plymouth St., Santa Cruz, and is currently facing dwindling membership.

“There used to be hundreds of German groups,” said Reader, who grew up in South County and attended Watsonville High School. “But they’ve lost ground and disappeared. We’re definitely feeling pressure.”

Longtime member Ruth Martin said that much of that has to do with aging members.

“We are getting older, and people are participating less and less,” she said. “It’s just a sad fact.”

The club is reaching out to county residents to join—or attend one of their regularly-scheduled social events. The first, a “Welcome Back” event, will be held Saturday at 2 p.m. It will include a barbecue of sausages, burgers, sauerkraut, potato salad and homemade root beer floats as well as games and other activities. Tickets for non-members are $15.

Reader clarifies that the club is not only for German-Americans. Only half of the current members are of German descent. English is the primary language spoken—with a sprinkling of German “for fun and practice,” he said.

“We’re not exclusive,” Reader said. “This club is for everyone.”

In October, the club will host a special concert: the 40-piece band, Blaskapelle Lüchtringen, will perform at the hall. The non-professional group, which hails from the town of Höxter, Germany, often combines a trip to the U.S. with a concert tour.

“If you want to hear some good, traditional German music… they’re fantastic,” Reader said.

The show will be held at the German-American Hall on Oct. 13 from 3-5 p.m. Tickets are $15 for guests but free for members who reserve before Oct. 8. A barbecue meal with baked beans, corn on the cob and potato salad is included.

November’s event is a film screening of “Jenseits der Stille” (“Beyond Silence”), a German film about a girl with deaf parents who aspires to be a musician. The film will include English subtitles.

On Dec. 14 the club will host its annual Christmas social.

“We are doing our best to stay active,” Reader said. “It’s a struggle sometimes. But the events are always fun and interesting. We’re eager to have people drop by and join in.”

Added Martin: “We have this beautiful lodge… all this history. We want it to be appreciated and to continue.”

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A membership to the German-American Club of Santa Cruz costs $25 per year, with a $10 initiation fee. For information and to register for events visit germanamericanclubsantacruz.com or call 462-4020.

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