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Friends Circle a retreat for members


Dispatch/Argus Photo By Chuck Thomas

Curt Chapman, left, rols a rolle bolle toward the stake in the basement of theFriends' Circle Club in Moline.

MOLINE -- The men were drinking beer at the horseshoe-shaped bar while the women played cards in the adjoining banquet hall.

Friends Circle long has been a popular weekday retreat for the local retirement set. The Belgian social club, a staple on Moline's 7th Street, is one of the few places in town that still stocks Hamm's beer and serves Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap.

It is perhaps one of the few social clubs where you can play rolle bolle in the basement or try archery upstairs. While the estimated 800 members of Friends Circle now include both women and non-Belgians, the club's roots still are planted in the cultures of Belgium and Holland.

Established in the early 1900s -- no one's sure exactly what year -- the Friends Circle originally was located above Model Printers on Moline's River Drive. The membership moved its club uptown, to the basement of the Sunnyville Building on 9th Street, several years later.

Finally, Friends Circle moved to quarters upstairs at its current location at 701 18th Ave. By 1976 the club occuppied all three floors of the large, corner-lot building.

The beer, brats and rolle-bolle reputation of Moline's 7th Street largely was earned by the members of Friends Circle.

``At one time, the club was strictly for those of Belgian or (Dutch) descent,'' Friends Circle president Bill Fisher said. ``As many of the older Belgians died, the rolle-bollers had to start taking women and non-Belgians.''

While rolle bolle remains a Friends Circle trademark, other signs of Belgian culture have faded over the years.

``The place was established as an Americanization opportunity for immigrants from Belgium and Holland,'' Mr. Fisher said. ``Obviously, immigration patterns have changed.''

While Moline once was recognized as the U.S. city with the second-highest Belgian population -- Detroit is first -- Mr. Fisher said he would guess the population now is spread throughout the Quad-Cities.

``Unfortunately, we've gotten away somewhat from the Belgian culture,'' he said. ``Though we do maintain the rolle bolle and archery, I'd like to see the place get back to a Belgian social club.''

Though slipping somewhat from its early ethnic ties, the Friends Circle continues to inspire a social-club camaraderie. Whether playing rolle bolle or euchre or drinking a Hamm's at the horseshoe-shaped bar, members of Friends Circle have a place to belong.

The club's modest membership fees are $10 a year for men and $5 a year for the women to belong to the auxiliary, and they buy some of the lowest-priced drinks in town, a seat at club parties and dinners, and reduced rates on hall rentals.

In addition to lower-level rolle bolle, a main-floor bar, kitchen and banquet hall, the third floor of Friends Circle also contains a bar, kitchen, banquet hall and stage. The halls are available to the public for rental.

-- By Barb Ickes (January 26, 1998)

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