El Rio Grande, as we all know, means the Great River. Edelweiss means Noble White, a white, velvety flower of the European Alps. It is so beloved, so sought after, that laws protect it. It is so delicate that it cannot survive away from the cool, rarefied air of the Alpine meadows. Symbolically, this exquisite beauty has been transplanted to the hot, dry climate of the Rio Grande, residing in the heart and memories of German and Austrian residents.

Like its counterpart in the Alps, the Edelweiss on the Rio Grande began as a seed, an idea. But to nurture a seed, you need fertile ground, and that ground was Der Deutsche Sprecher Verein (The Union of German Speakers). This was an informal association of Germans residing in Albuquerque in the 1950’s; all business was conducted in the German language.

The seed was planted. Charles Volz was hanging around Old Town one day, talking to Fritz Buschner who owned a jewelry stand there. “Fritz” he said, “you know we should form some kind of German Club, like they have in Denver and other cities. What do you think?” “Well, let’s do it!” answered Fritz.

The word went out by word-of-mouth, by newspaper, and by radio: “those who wish to form a German-American Club, let’s meet at the Alvarado Hotel.” There were 39 persons there that night at the historic hotel. Free beer was served on the patio, and after a while the group met in one of the conference rooms and formed a loose, informal organization. The last names of the participants read like a cross-section of Americana – Beckman, Cowper, Dufray, Buers, Fugit, McHutchinson, Tafoya, Jones, Zuni, Parker – but all had some ties to Germany, either born there, or married to a German. Note the first names of some of the ladies: Brigitte, Hildegard, Gisela, Elfride, Maria, Helga, Berta. These were the Charter Members.

A few meetings were held later at the old Hilton Hotel (now the Plaza). On July 25, 1965 the club was formally organized. A name was chosen, honoring that delicate, rare white flower of the Alps, protected by law – could it survive in the harsh, dry climate of New Mexico? We shall see.

The Edelweiss am Rio Grande began its rocky road. A constitution was hammered out; most of it still in existence. Initiation fee was set at $3.00 and yearly fees at $6.00 for individuals, $10.00 for families.

The first president, Mike Markusfeld, was elected. The club was incorporated and a Certificate of Incorporation was filed on September 16th, 1965.

It was a club without a building, meeting and celebrating where it could. The Oktoberfest that year was held at the FOP building. But then, in October 1966 the club leased the present building, a grocery store with plate-glass all along the east side, the furniture consisting of
folding chairs and tables made of hollow core doors mounted on screw-on legs. They were a bit wobbly, but they did the job. The table cloths were a red and white checkered cafe type which every week the Kaffeeklatsch ladies, laundered and ironed. At that time the kitchen was a restaurant called Kayes Grill and the game room was an office.

A parade was organized to celebrate the opening of the clubhouse. High school bands, floats, and marchers started from Winrock Center, up Louisiana Avenue, then west on Menaul to the Club. It was a joyful beginning. But money was tight; volunteers did everything. Paul Fugit acted as the first House Manager. Paul and “Pop” Gulder tended the bar, cleaned up and were general handymen. Mom Gulder cooked. Everybody pitched in and decorated and equipped the
clubhouse. It was a close, warm, fun group.

The club seemed to be thriving and a paid House Manager was hired. But financial woes mounted. In early November of 1968 disaster struck. In a special board meeting over finances, the Board of Directors ordered the President to close the club for good the first of next year. He refused. All officers, elected and appointed, resigned except for the President and Vice President. The President (Charles Volz) immediately appointed new officials. He pledged his own home as collateral for loans to satisfy the club’s creditors. Members were asked – and responded enthusiastically – to contribute $5.00 each to help save the club. All hired help was let go. Everybody hunkered down and began working. By the end of the year, the club owed only $275.00.

Volunteers manned the club completely until 1971. After those first rough years the sailing was still choppy, but nothing compared to the choppy seas that the club had to weather. We have had
our rough times, but we have been steady and growing. Charter flights were instituted, we replaced the windows with brick (for safety). The club acquired a German look, built a game room, and expanded activities. Membership became diversified. Dignitaries visited often, German officers and soldiers, from Ft. Bliss, Utah and Alamogordo, made the club a regular stop. Thanksgiving dinners were served for members without families. We sponsored German language classes at Taos and Glorieta. We have taken part in international festivals, Summerfest, held city-wide Oktoberfests, donated a beautiful gateway to the zoo, granted scholarships, held children’s Christmas parties, yearly picnics for club members, and still hold on to the German traditional festivities.

Clipping from Albuquerque Journal, September 15, 1966

The club underwent more renovations by adding a Bauernstube-very authentic, which can also be used as a food service unit. Our latest addition is the renovation of the bathrooms and addition of a second bar which is used as a Sekt bar or Shooters bar, depending on the season, and a meeting room. We have also added a great Edelweiss lamp (hand-crafted by John Gossett) to the outside of the building.

The facilities currently include a large ballroom, a bauernstube, bar, kitchen, playroom, meeting room with a small bar, and office, with total seating for over 200 people. It is used throughout the year for various social events, including a number of Fasching events, the Vienna ball, Maifest, Winefest, Oktoberfest as well as celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day, Smingus-Dyngus (Polish), Cinco de Mayo, and various other dance parties, such as Country-Western, Hawaiian Luau, Roaring 20’s Dance, and Hispanic Festival. During the week you can take dance lessons in Irish ceili, and Volkdancing. The facilities are available to members for private meetings, parties, weddings, etc.

Indeed, the Edelweiss is thriving on the Rio Grande.

Submitted by former German Culture Chair, Brigitta Walker and former President, Larry Lopez