History of the Fort Wayne Ski Club (FWSC)
The FWSC celebrated its 84th anniversary in January, 2020. Since 1936, thousands of area flatlanders have associated themselves with others who share the exhilaration of sliding down snowy hills, strapped in funny boots secured to long boards.
In 1972, Heinz Wahl compiled a historical review of the club from 1936-1972. The following is based on his recollection with updates by Marv Fishman (1912-2001) and Dave Billian.
Memory does not always provide the exact chronological order of events, nor the hour, nor day, nor even month. Skiing did not have recognition in the 1920s or early 1930s in our Fort Wayne area. Thus, events are based upon the knowledge of its founders, Henry Wahl and Ed Dodez, as well as some of the old members who still reside in our community, without whom the club’s history could never have been written. The importance is not in the exact date of events but in the fact that it all did happen.
The names of the original members are given as being correct and as complete as can be after 36 years of snow. To those remembered, and for those names we may have forgotten, we give recognition to their spirit and contribution to the sport of skiing.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
The progress of time with its accompanying tune of social changes and scientific advancements has failed to alter one distinguishing characteristic of the skier. No matter which year we point back to in the history of skiing, we always find that same faraway look upon the skier’s face as he dreams of slopes covered with untracked snow being carved by his flying skis.
As we look back to 1924-1936, we discover Midwest skiing, and more specifically skiing in Fort Wayne area, comparable to a toddling infant – a stumbling, fledgling sport without attention or much direction. However, there was a quality within this immature winter activity that grasped one’s interests like wet snow to unwaxed skis. During this early period, our time machine reveals the events and players which led to the creation of the Kekionga Ski Club.
One must consider and recognize during the 1920s the non-existence of well-developed functional equipment or the enticing areas with their chair lifts and after ski life. Even transportation restricted the skier’s ability to venture far and still be within the realm of practicality.
Of the few ski areas that did exist in those long ago 1920s, by today’s standards, they could hardly be considered as providing excellent skiing facilities and often proved to be more of a tobaggonist’s delight. Even with these adverse ingredients, the environment, and the unpredictable Indiana snows, there still endured an enthusiasm for skiing by a few hardy souls who were probably looked upon as individuals devoid of gray matter within their craniums. The response of the public witnessing one of our early local skiers – trudging his way out to the municipal park with long skis and poles resting upon his shoulders, garbed in big boots and baggy knickers, with long woolen socks and an unmatched wool cap, exhorting billowing vapors from his nostrils – could only result in one responsive action. “Call the paddy wagon as no sensible human would trot around like that in this cold. If one must be out on a day like this, it must be only to clear the walks.” The same response would be as if one were to gaze upon some creature from outer space striding down our main street.
One of these strange beings made the scene. Upon graduating from Dartmouth in 1925, Ed Dodez returned to Fort Wayne bringing with him a desire to continue skiing. His college Outing Club took him touring and downhill skiing in the White Mountains, and the bug had bitten.
Ed Dodez, a native of Fort Wayne, ventured forth alone as he skied the small slopes of our city parks. He almost set skiing back a few years when he accepted the challenge of ski touring behind a car from Reservoir Hill into town and ended in front of the old Indiana Hotel. History has it he collected his bet. Being a hiker and preferring hills to streets, he recalled the slopes north of the city in the area of Cedar Creek not far from the present Isaac Walton League Club House. This new territory became his Indiana Appalachians.
Another one of these crazy devils appeared from out of nowhere in 1923. A young man and his wife from Bavaria, Germany, decided to make a new start in life in a country which would provide the opportunity for peace and happiness. By some quirk of circumstance, Henry Wahl and his wife Marla, who also skied, ended up in a geographical area in direct contrast from the Alps, which they saw from their village home a few miles from the towering Bavarian Mountains. Henry, who was virtually brought up on skis and whose hobbies had been mountaineering and skiing, was going to make the most out of the least. Just as his future lifelong friend Ed Dodez, he decided there was far too much love for skiing to do nothing about it. If someone found ski tracks down through their sloping vacant lot, or herringbone tracks up the old Reservoir Hill, they knew the Wild Bavarian had been there.
Unfortunately, these gentlemen did not cross skis for a few years; at least they didn’t happen to be at the same city park at the same time. They continued their individual ways schussing whatever looked schussable, and a slope that had a 15 degree pitch was a major discovery and a little piece of heaven.
In 1930 while Ed was attending a Scout Jamboree at Rome City, he met this energetic, German fellow who was also active in scouting. After conversing about the enjoyment of the outdoors, sailing, and canoeing, they hit on an even greater common ground – skiing. Both realized that, at last, their lonely jaunts had ended and began discussions about encouraging others to take up the sport of telemarking down the snowy slopes.
Through Ed Dodez, Henry was brought into the Kekionga Paddle and Sail Club where they found another skier, Robert Nichens. Others within this club wanted to extend their sport activities into winter, and skiing sounded as if it would offer the same type of outdoor adventure as they had found in sailing and canoeing.
Throughout the following four years, the small group of seven skiers enticed some others who were equally adventurous in spirit. Henry, who had started a fencing academy, gathered a few of his apt pupils and substituted ski poles for fencing foils. With this addition, the group of seven doubled. On Friday eves, when the snow had held, the phones began to ring and haphazard plans were made to head for Cedar Creek or Buzzard’s Hill (now known as Mt. Wawasee from 1960-1990). It was finally concluded that some organizational planning was needed to make more effective use of time. Ed and Henry felt if we are all giving to skiing together, let’s start a club. In 1936, the month and place no longer remembered, the Kekionga Ski Club was formed with Henry Wahl as its President. The old Kekionga Paddle and Sail Club disbanded, and many of its former members were now involved in the activities of the new ski club.
As an interesting local sideline, the members of the ski club were instrumental in founding the Wawasee Yacht Club, one of Indiana’s oldest existing yacht clubs.
As word got out that winter was the greatest season of all if you skied, the Kekionga family began to grow. The slopes of Cedar Creek on an autumn day would find the group cutting down weeds and carting off boulders and tree limbs. Henry Wahl ran his eager group up and down the hills to improve the “benz-zee-knees” action. Soon, some energetic souls under direction of Bob Nichens built a small ski jump and warming shelter. The area became the hub of sitzmarks.
To further encourage the growth of skiing, new products and improvements over the old ones finally came to these snowbirds. Steel edges! Every cabinet maker in town found some nut knocking on his door wanting a neat, fine grove cut into the edges of his skis so that the edges could be inserted. There were even rumors that there were skis with edges already installed. The old hot iron used in putting on the base wax and the hours of scraping were becoming passé. The sticky dark wax was replaced with coats of liquid base lacquer. Hazelwood poles lost out to Tonkin poles. The bindings had been improved! Now the toe irons could be adjusted without disassembling the whole binding. The leather straps with metal back buckles were replaced with snappy cables. Those old boots whose turned-up toes would stare you in the face — pitch’em. The boots now have metal shanks within the soles. Fashion was not overlooked. Everyone who wanted to look the part purchased the slick finished gabardine ski trousers and the woollies made their way into the Salvation Army. The new slacks appeared like a loose jib sail whipping in the wind. The greatest invention of all also came onto this scene of progress. What the wheel was to civilization, the rope tow was equally significant to skiing. Dirty, slippery, wet, greasy, whipping, ornery, snaky, blankety-blank ropes shot everyone back up the hill, sometimes depositing the skiers on the rooftops of the sheds containing the gasoline engine that furnished the power. But it was great not having to spend an hour climbing back up the slope and not listening to the cry of “track” as some fool whizzed by. With the coming of the rope tow, the rat race was on. Mitten manufacturers were having a heyday replenishing worn out tow mitts, and grandma couldn’t keep enough of that liniment around the house. Sore arms and shoulders were a common skier’s ailment. The new ski jackets proved to be excellent sponges to dry off the rope tow, and black marks of the tow branded the individual as a skier.
Although skiing continued in the 1940s at Cedar Creek, Buzzard’s Hill, and touring with the Toledo Ski Club on Pokagon State Park Hills, the migration began heading north of Fort Wayne. “Caberfae here we come!” was the weekend cry. Some members of the Ski Club became the scourge of the Michigan State Police and became well acquainted with many of the small town constables. One of the illustrious members, Ed Kane, had to resort to finding a dozen routes to Cadillac.
Skiing was getting into the swing of things but concluded quickly with the outbreak of WWII. Trips ground to a standstill, unless someone had obtained enough gas stamps and possessed tires that handsomely showed sufficient tread. Marv Fishman, upon certification as a skier by Henry Wahl, enlisted in the newly formed 10th Mountain Infantry Division which was composed of many skiers from all parts of the USA. One of his service friends returned after the war and developed the Arapahoe Ski Area in Colorado.
Soon after the end of the war, the old members flocked back together again and were on the go. Henry Wahl was instructing in Wisconsin and leading ski train trips to Sun Valley where he also instructed. Some member always returned to give a glowing report on skiing at Stowe, British Columbia, or northern Michigan. In 1945, Henry Wahl and his son Heinz were leading the cry — ‘Go west young man, go west! There’s a new area that hasn’t quite opened, but we went anyway, and it’s nothing short of terrific.’ This new area, still not well known, was Aspen! With these words in their ears, Marv Fishman, Louis Derheimer, the Ankenbruck brothers, June and Ed Dodez, Bob Fisher, and Bob Goldstine jumped into their covered wagons and returned discipling the cry of Westward Ho!
As time records, many of the members of the Kekionga Ski Club found inherited responsibilities that time eventually brings to us all cutting into their skiing activities. Fortunately, a new group composed of young, ardent skiers began to take over the future of the club. In 1959, a new name was adopted, and the Indian name for Fort Wayne (Kekionga) was changed to a name that pinpointed the club’s home base. Besides, who wants to go into a long dissertation on what Kekionga means and then where Fort Wayne is? The Fort Wayne Ski Club was an excellent solution and befitting name for a club which had come a long way from skiing out at Cedar Creek Canyon.
This early history only covers the first 23 years, through 1959; 1960-1967 seems to be missing (a blur to many of us), but we pick up again in 1968 when the first FWSC newsletter was published. It was named the “Mogul Yodeler” by Board Member Dale Fulkerson’s wife Corine, and since then, it has documented monthly the various activities of the Club.
Everything has a beginning, humble as it may be. The spirit of skiing remains the same, whatever the name may be. The year was 1936 and the way of life the same, dreams of untracked slopes covered with snow continue to fill the hearts of skiers today just as it did then.
Bob & Alice Nichens
Ken & Neil Altekruse
Lucille Shultz Tuscan
Paul & Betty Perry
Erwin Heinz Wahl
June Merriman Dodez
Lavonne Smith Long
LATER MEMBERS (joined as Kekionga Ski Club)
Mary Frances Burns
Mr. & Mrs. Mac MacKay
Dr. & Mrs. Eugene Bolson
Mr. & Mrs. Richard Teeple
Mr. & Mrs. David Hobrock
Mr. & Mrs. Frank Calahan
Mr. & Mrs. Preston Slack
Mr. & Mrs. Wm. Levy