Sebago Club Quitting –Means End of an Era
Hundreds of Children From Prominent St. Louis Families Attended in Its 35-Year History
By Clarissa Start
“It’s just the end of the story, that’s all,” L. Matthews Werner said.
The story which is ending is Sebago Club, the work and play group for children which Matt Werner and his wife, Margaret Steele Werner, have operated for 35 years.
Sebago, with its tree houses, its dammed-up streams, its giant slide, its busses named Battle Ship and Peanut Roaster, is part and parcel of childhood memories for many St. Louisans. They will find it hard to believe it will soon be no more.
Officially, Sebago comes to an end next June, 1959, when the Werners move themselves and their other activity, a school for disturbed children, to Cocoanut Grove, Fla. The school will be the Werners major work. Camp Ironwood, which they operate at Harrison, Me., had been curtailed in size, and Sebago will start its final year this fall.
Sebago’s property on Warson road was sold several years ago and since then the club has “gypsied around,” as it did in its early days in the 1920s. Like the century, the Werners were also in their 20s then and looking back, they sometimes wonder at the fearlessness which led them into such an ambitious project.
The name “Sebago” is the Penobscot Indian word meaning “beautiful water,” and it was from Sebago Lake, Me., where he camped as a youngster that Werner took the name for his club. The Maine club was operated by A. E. Hamilton, son of Dr. Luther Haisey Gulick, founder of the physical department of the Y.M.C.A. and creator of the famous “Y” triangle. Werner met Hamilton at Interlochen School, Rolling Prairie, Ind., and when he was 20 he became a counselor at the camp.
“I was deeply impresses with Hamilton’s work, not just the physical effort but the quality of spiritual life and his efforts to guide youthful personality,” Werner recalled. “When camp was over that summer, I was restless and wanted to take something of camp life back to the city.”
With Hamilton’s help, he transplanted camp to New Rochelle, N. Y., and started an after-school camp for boys there. In 1923 he returned to St. Louis to do the same thing. He thought he might augment it with a camp for girls, too.
Wives have long memories. Mrs. Werner recalls that Matt’s father, Percy Werner, a lawyer, said to his son, “You don’t often listen to me but I know the girl to help you.” The girl was Margaret Steele who was taking the lawyer’s class in legal ethics at college but also had worked as playground instructor and city supervisor of dancing.
“He introduced us over the phone,” Mrs. Werner recalled, “and I told him I couldn’t possibly be interested because I was going to become a lawyer. Then we met and that changed all my plans.”
Sebago held its first meeting in the fall of 1923, unfortunately on the same day as the first big air show at Lambert Field, but the crowd, though small, was enthusiastic. One mother rose to her feet to start the enrollments and Leo Drey became the first child to join the Sebago Club.