May 21 • 03:05 AM

Imlay's own 'Field of Dreams'

'Grand Old Grandstand,' Grettenberger Field evokes memories of bygone era

Imlay City’s 1949 Baseball team consisted of (back) Coach Lyle Powers, Lyle Stephens, Phil Kempf, Jerry LePard, Max Irish, Doug Maison, Norm Muir, Jack Bayes, (front) Len Laarman, Dick Walker, Fred Arndt, Jerry Downey, Don Touchette, Jerry Reed, Bruce Reside and Nick Surdu.

July 09, 2008
A local baseball field is more than grass and dirt with a diamond etched in chalk.

In a quieter time it was the focal point of the community. The ballpark accumulated the sweat, tears, and laughter of generations of families. Memories have been created that last a lifetime.

Imlay City's Gretten-berger Field is such a place. Recently in jeopardy because of safety concerns, the Imlay City Schools' Alumni Association has committed to saving the grandstands at the field from certain demise and renovating the ball park. They're in the process of a fundraising project called "You're A Grand Old Grandstand" to secure financing for the renovations.

Grettenberger Field is a child of the Great Depression. The grandstands were built by the Works Progress Administration.

The W.P.A. was designed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to put the unemployed back to work. In a culture that despised handouts, the W.P.A. provided employment for those too proud to beg.

"It has been difficult to find people who worked on the grandstands," Director of Administrative Services Barb Klocko says. "The workers were paid $42 a month. People felt it was still welfare. They felt it was nothing to brag about."

The circa 1935 field was named in honor of Reuben A. (R.A.) Grettenberger. "Grett" was Superintendent of Imlay City schools from 1920 to 1947. He was instrumental in the implementation of the W.P.A. project that now bears his name. Later, he served as Lapeer County Superintendent of Schools from 1947 to 1957.

He began his career in Imlay City as the high school principal and coach. He led the school to several sports championships.

At a sports banquet in 1949, "Grett" recalled, "The boys wore whatever sort of uniform they could find. In those days the schools did not pay for athletic equipment."

In Imlay City's first baseball game, they defeated Dryden 26 to 5. They then pummeled Almont 21 to 1. But Attica became their first defeat by 13 to 12.

R.A. Grettenberger was born on April 11, 1891. He died on February 3, 1960. His daughter, Ann Grettenberger King is an avid supporter of the renovation project. She has committed a matching donation to the funds so far collected for the project.

R.A. “Grett” Grettenberger
"It is important to Ann and her father's memory that we restore the grandstands," Klocko says. "He was Superintendent of Imlay City Schools for 27 years before he became the superintendent for the entire county. He was an incredible person and a statesman of the town."

Al Dorow, a 1947 Imlay City High School graduate who was later an NFL all-star, remembers his baseball playing days with fondness. "In our junior season we lost only one game," Dorow recalls. "Then in our senior season we went undefeated. We played in the Tri-County League which included teams from Lake Orion and Lapeer."

But, Dorow adds, the field was noted for its fast-pitch softball leagues. Teams would play every night but Sunday, and cars would surround the field to take in the games. They were popular events for the entire community.

"There were two leagues. I first played for the Senior League's Deluxe Theater then moved on to the Imlay City Oil squad," Dorow says. "We would play one game in Imlay City then drive to another town to get in another.

"Some of the stars from that era were Carl Sterner, Almont's Buck Bannister, Russ Teal, Casey Campbell, and 'Fricky' Whitkopf," Dorow says.

In the 1950s and '60s, there was also a local church league that played at the field. A player of note was pitcher Al Bosch. Little League and high school baseball games continued to take place there into the millennium.

"This is our legacy that we help preserve this historic structure," Imlay City Alumni Association Secretary Marilyn Swihart says. "It is a tradition of fair play, sportsmanship, family, and community."

In addition to the renovation of the ballpark, there is also a movement to make the stands a state historic site.

"An application has been submitted to commemorate the grandstands with a Michigan Historical Marker," Klocko says. "The process could take up to a year and a half. The plan is to wall mount the historical marker to the back of the grandstand. We hope the field will still be used for Little League, JV and adult activities."

The Imlay City Alumni Association has asked its members to share memories of the field. One of the most poignant came from Father Don Worthy from St. Philomena Parish in Detroit.

"On a terribly hot afternoon, Tuesday July 8th, 1941, when I was eight years old, I stood in right field in a kid's summer pick-up ball game," Fr. Worthy recalls.

"Organized play had ended at noon under Kenny Day's direction. We were listening to the American League All Stars play their National League counterparts from Brigg's Stadium (Tiger Stadium) in Detroit," Worthy continues. "Another boy had brought a battery-powered radio. It blared from the grandstand that Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox had hit the game-winning home run off Claude Passeau of the Chicago Cubs. That was one of baseball's greatest moments. Unfortunately, it was a prelude to the tragic changes that would follow at Pearl Harbor the following December. Everything would change after that in Imlay City and elsewhere to diminish the joy we all felt that memorable day.

"I'm glad to join the fund to save such a special place in my life," Worthy concludes.

Such are the memories that Grettenberger Field inspire. Over decades such simple pleasures as the feel of the bat hitting the ball, catching that final out, or just experiencing the sun on one's brow resonate from generation to generation. Truly, this is what is meant by a 'field of dreams.'

Contributions to the "You're a Grand Old Grandstand" campaign may be sent to the Imlay City Alumni Association, c/o Sue Romine, 320 West First Street, Imlay City, Michigan 48444.

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