Our ancestors first arrived in Jacksonville in the late 1880’s. In those days, it was the custom for the men to make the long and uncertain journey to America first, without their wives and children. Once here, they faced the arduous task of setting down roots. They had to establish a home and find work or start a business to ensure financial stability before sending for their families in the “old country” to join them in “The Land of Opportunity.” This goal sometimes took years to achieve and is a testament to their hard work, determination and desire to better the lives of their families.
In 1912, some of these men began the Syrian American Club of Jacksonville. Together, these men created a group that provided both fellowship and networking for the men who were already established in the Jacksonville community. The club also served as a support system to ease the transition to life in a new country for men who were “fresh off the boat.” These business oriented men built their club house on the corner of 16th and Main streets in a two story building. The upstairs was used for club meetings and, for many, became their home away from home. The downstairs was rented to two tenants and the rental income was used to retire the mortgage on the building in record time. They held their meetings once a month, paid dues, took roll call and wrote their minutes in Arabic.
History of the Salaam Club
Eventually, there were three main men’s clubs in Jacksonville: The Syrian American Club, The Lebanon American Club and The Homs Brotherhood Club. The club had large picnics at Skaff’s dairy and in Lake Forest. The women cooked and the men handled the cash registers. Very good times were had on these outings. In 1959, five acres of prime property was purchased on Beach Boulevard and the present club house was constructed. The club sponsored dances, plays, dinners and halfi events. Subsequently, the three men’s clubs merged and became The Salaam Club of Florida. Membership in the Salaam Club was eventually opened to the entire family and the club as we know it today began. The new club property was expanded and now boasted a pool, basketball and racquetball courts, a baseball field, a giant playground and, of course, an upstairs sanctuary for the men to play cards away from their wives and kids!
Over the years, two main events emerged as the primary gatherings for members of the club: Saturday Night Steak Socials and Kibbee Picnics. It became a tradition in every family to gather at the Salaam Club on Saturday nights for food, fellowship and fun (not to mention high stakes card playing!) For the bargain price of $3, the club provided baked potatoes, corn, salad, bread and a wide assortment of cookies to compliment the steaks (or meat of choice.) The members grilled on giant charcoal grills. For decades, this tradition of steak and cards was reenacted weekly. Kids would play outside, women would jockey for the ideal table position and the men would grill the meat and then disappear upstairs into the mysterious “card room.” Several times a year, the club geared up for a kibbee picnic. The women would form a giant kibbee assembly line and over 200 pounds of beef was transformed into hundreds of kibbee mish-wee-ee that the men grilled. Once a year, the club held the “Big Picnic” to coincide with the opening of the pool for the summer. The club would be packed to maximum capacity and pony rides, a cash raffle and even carnival rides rounded out the festivities. The club also held parties for Christmas and New Year’s Eve, Easter Egg Hunts, and breakfasts for Mother’s and Father’s Day; but, the Steak Socials and Picnics will always reign supreme as the most popular Salaam Club events.
The Salaam Club has produced countless leaders in the Jacksonville community for over one hundred years. Its members have served as mayor, doctors, nurses, realtors, teachers, business owners, ministers, attorneys, police officers, state representatives and decorated veterans. In The Salaam Club, members are more than simple participants in an organization; but rather, a community that views itself as family has grown over many generations. Children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have embraced and connected with their Arabic heritage and as a community we have maintained ties to our culture in tangible and substantial ways. The club has allowed us all to embrace the new life of unlimited possibilities our forefathers dreamed of for us, while never losing the concrete foundation of who we are as a people and where we came from.
The original Salaam Club building, circa 1950's
Current Club Officers
President: Cynthia Meyers
Vice-President: Keith Maida
Treasurer: Kim Maynor
Financial Secretary: Mary Mashour
Recording Secretary: JoAnne Ackman
Salaam Club Board
Barbara Perry- Chairman of the Board
Frank Risk Jr.
Communications Manager: Leeann Theiss
We are an affiliate club of the Southern Federation of Syrian and Lebanese American Clubs (SFSLAC)