The Mitt's Tip Holds A Whole Lot of Bridge
By Jonathan Friendly
People in the tip of Michigan's lower peninsula started playing cards at least as long ago as when some fur trappers needed a way to pass the winter hours.
Exactly when bridge got to the Tip of the Mitt is less certain. Auctions must have been contested at the fancy resort hotels of the late 1800's, on the boats and trains bringing summer folk up from Chicago and St. Louis and, of course, at private homes. Serious duplicate play, however, began about 75 years, after the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) was founded and started sanctioning games.
Regular games were under way quickly in the larger downstate cities such as Detroit, Lansing and Grand Rapids, but gathering enough players was more of a challenge for the less populated areas of the Tip. A quick perusal of the ACBL archives offered no authoritative data, so understanding the evolution of duplicate here means relying on local memories.
One of the first clubs was started in the late 1950's by Don Gragg in Petoskey. The club met year round and usually had approximately ten tables. It met in a variety of places, including the Presbyterian and Episcopal churches. Carol Bertschinger remembers many a time in the winter when all the tables and chairs that had been set up for bridge had to be taken down and put away because the winter weather prevented anyone from coming.
Action in Cheboygan
There was no sanctioned duplicate bridge game in Cheboygan in 1969 when Bob Kazmierowski got there as a young certified public accountant. One day he noticed his secretary was playing with a deck of cards during her lunch break. She said she was trying to figure out a bridge hand and asked Bob if he played bridge. When he said no, she offered to teach him.
Turned out that Bob was a pretty good learner. A doctor in town had a unsanctioned bridge game going regularly, but over time Bob ended up running the action and getting ACBL sanction for it.
For many years they had 5 or 6 tables in the winter and more in the summer. They played in public schools as well as office buildings in town. After almost 40 years the game had dwindled to a few tables, as players died off. When the game closed Bob decided that the only fair thing to do was to split the money remaining in the bridge account and he sent a check "for about $35" to all the people who were left.
The Bertschinger Effect
Carol moved to Petoskey in 1982 and began playing at Don Gragg's club on Tuesday evenings. Carol became Don’s manager and later became a director and eventually owner of the club 1985, when Don retired due to illness. After she and Walter Bertschinger met and married in 1995, they decided to remodel their home and established a permanent bridge room in the lower level. In the summer, players enjoy looking at Carol’s beautiful gardens when they drive up.
Carol and Walter both taught bridge for many years at the Community Center in Harbor Springs. Carol says the biggest difference in the game came with the ACBL establishment of Zero Tolerance Policy in 1998. And applauds Mike and Pam for continuing and enforcing the policy in Petoskey.
Among the early players were Shirley and Jean Carpenter, June Jackson and Dave Muzzall.
For the Love of Bridge
Mike Sears and Pam Ziegel met at the Bertschinger’s game. Both were looking for something to do after retiring to Northern Michigan. They wanted to play more bridge during the week and liked the idea of opening a game in Petoskey.
In May of 2007 they opened the Petoskey Bridge Club at the Knights of Columbus. Every Wednesday and Thursday the room they leased had to be set up for the game each Wednesday, hauling out the tables, chairs and boxes, and even hanging heavy duty lights around the dark room. On very hot days Mike hoisted a portable air conditioner into a small window to cool the room. And cold nights were occasionally worse.
Because storage space was so limited, Pam kept the cans of pop in her car. One fine winter day she opened the car door to find the cans had exploded all over the interiors, from floor to ceiling.
Pam and Mike's hard work was appreciated by many, and the game grew. It drew players from all over Northern Michigan, from as far as Cheboygan and Traverse City.
Its success drew the attention of Jean and Shirley Carpenter. In 2008 they approached Mike and Pam with an idea. Jean said that he always wanted to do something for the community, that he and Shirley had been here since the 1970’s and that it was time for them to give back. They particularly liked the fact that what Mike and Pam were doing at the bridge club was drawing all kinds of people from the community.
Jean and Shirley offered to fund a permanent bridge center. Existing buildings for sale kept coming up short, mainly because they lacked enough parking space. So the Carpenters decided to build. They bought the property on Cemetery Road, and an architect began to draw up plans.
Pam recalls that Jean, trained in architecture as well as law, was a very hands-on part of the team. Among other things, he insisted that the ceilings be made higher so that the building would have this wonderful open feeling.
Building was completed and the Petoskey Bridge Club opened on September 30, 2009. More than 80 individuals donated to complete the furnishing for the interior of the club.
Mike and Pam donated their for-profit operation as the nucleus, forming a new not-for-profit organization to manage the operation. The club continues to grow, guided by a volunteer board, and many members who support the club with donations of treasure or time or both.