Senior Living: Sportsman’s Club brings young and old together

If you’re near West Street and Aurora Avenue on a Thursday evening or Sunday afternoon, you can’t miss the sound of the shooting from the Naperville Sportsman’s Club.

Informal gun clubs were in Naperville since the 1880s. The Sportsman’s League was founded in 1937 by a group of leading businessmen. In 1948 the club leaders entered into lease agreements with the city to develop a former garbage dump into a permanent home for the club. Today, the club continues to partner with both the city and the Naperville Park District in operating and maintaining the facility.

The club offers three ATA regulation trap fields lighted for evening shooting. The club is open to the public and welcomes shooters of all ages and abilities. In cooperation with the Park District the members take turns operating the facility. It is truly a community resource in the middle of Naperville.

The club is dedicated to preserving its heritage and conserving the natural resources. To protect the environment, participants use non-toxic ammunition and targets. Members promote the sport with an emphasis on safety, education, training and recreation. Various instructional programs are offered.

My husband, Ray, 73, has been a member for the last few years. Our son Mike and one of our grandsons Emmett Grundberg, 15, also shoot with Ray. Many family groups shoot together.

I visited the club on a recent Sunday afternoon and spoke with some of the senior members. Most shoot twice a week. Some also shoot at other clubs in the area. Ray and a few others go to the Downers Grove Sportsmen’s Club in Morris on Tuesdays.

Don Hiltz, 79, has been a member since 1947. He started shooting when he was 12. Hiltz said his uncle was a founding member. Hiltz’s four sons frequently shoot with him.

Senior Ed Heasley has been a member since 1991. Heasley said he’s “always been around guns as an “Army brat.” He received his first gun from his grandfather at age 12. He recently gave his grandson a gun at the same age. Heasley is instrumental in the Park District’s Trap Fundamentals Class taught by club members.

Jack Foulkes, 85, joined the club six years ago when he moved to Naperville. He’s a longtime member of the Maywood Sportsman’s Club. Judy Novotny, 71, and her husband Chuck, 76, have been members since 2004. Novotny grew up in a rural setting and hunted to help feed the family since her early youth.

It’s easy to see the intergenerational camaraderie that exists among the members. Their love of the sport has brought them together and friendships have resulted. Some senior members have known each other since their early school days. Many are lifelong residents of Naperville and have strong community roots.

When a new shooter comes in, there is no lack of help getting them acclimated to the facility. As we age, we frequently lose touch with friends we had in school or when we were younger. It’s really inspiring to see a group of seniors making new friends and enjoying old ones.

The club closed June 8 to bring the facility in compliance with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), do some cleanup and make improvements to the club house. When asked what they were going to do without the availability of the club, they unanimously said, “Go to other clubs” in neighboring towns.

The Park District has set aside a space for the shooters to get together for Sportsman’s Stories at the Rubin Center on Thursday evenings until the club re-opens in the fall. Visit their website at www.NapervilleSportsmanClub.org.

Karen Courney has lived in Naperville since 1970. Contact her at sunseniorliving@gmail.com.

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