Old News with Jack Bond
The Arctic League’s Cycle of Charity
The Arctic League has been a staple in Chemung County for longer than anyone can remember, but the reason for its resilience is sometimes overlooked. The Arctic League’s long standing endurance isn’t just by chance, but by the way they invest in their own future through the act of charity.
Photo taken by Amy Bond.
The Arctic League started as a baseball club that met at a cigar shop and became a charity after then president, Jimmy Moonan, found a destitute child living on the streets. They named the child Friday and gave him presents every year while finding more kids that needed their generosity. These details are the most famous, but there are other facets of the founding which are vital to understanding the Arctic League’s history.
For example, Frank Tripp, a newspaper publisher, was a key to its renown. Tripp was a founding member of the charity and, incidentally, had a childhood of financial insecurity. Because of his past, Tripp knew how important the charity work would be, and he threw himself into promoting the cause. Over the course of his life, Tripp regularly wrote his own columns for the Star-Gazette, helped organize the annual radio broadcast with WESG, and later WENY. Tripp’s foundational work shows us how responsive and relevant the Arctic League’s cause was for locals in Chemung.
This is one of the biggest ways that the Arctic League is such a good charity: inspiration. Baked into its DNA since the beginning, those who benefit from the Arctic League, or see its importance at an early age, are more dedicated to working for or with it. Friday, the iconic first recipient of the Arctic League’s charity, grew up to consistently donate. And that pattern hasn’t gone away. John Corsi, an Elmira city councilman in 2011, said that he was one of the children that benefited from the Arctic League donations. The current president, Scott Heffner, started volunteering for the League as a child. And according to an archived news article an ex-local in Florida, Jim Newton, started his own charity called “Christmas for Kids and Seniors,” inspired by the Arctic League. All of the Arctic League’s efforts are what cause people to work for and with them with as much dedication as possible.
The people who are inspired by the Arctic League aren’t just the members of the League, but the many local organizations that work with it. Reading archived articles from the Chemung County Historical Society we can see the Arctic League has been working with other local organizations for a long time. One of the ways the Arctic League would regularly raise money was through annual charity baseball games run by a group called “The Oldtimers.” In 1935 the Arctic League even gave money to the local baseball league to keep it running and made their money back from the league, and awareness of the Arctic League grew. Elmira College and many of its student organizations have a history of supporting the Arctic League. And even St. Joseph’s Hospital made the news by having many nurses, housewives, teachers, and even one determined patient, make clothes for the donated dolls one year. When talking to Heffner about those that help the Arctic League today, he said that he couldn’t list them all at once but was immeasurably grateful for all of their help.
This connection to the community is why the Arctic League has been so resilient throughout many crises. During a fire in 1921 the entire inventory was lost and the donors doubled their contributions to make up for the loss. During World War II, gas rations prohibited the gifts from being picked up and the military stationed at the Holding Point volunteered to deliver them to the kids. During Hurricane Agnes of 1972 and the record high unemployment in the 1980s, the Arctic League weathered both. The Arctic League even recently displayed this resiliency during the COVID lockdown by using local volunteer fire departments for deliveries outside of Elmira while other volunteers still made deliveries inside the city. While the switch was bittersweet for the Arctic League, the results were more important and, in fact, the change is still used today because of its efficiency.
Perhaps the kids who benefited from this change will be the ones that improve the Arctic League as future leaders and volunteers.
If you want to learn more about the Arctic League’s history you can check their comic here.
About the author
Jack Bond is a writer and editor raised in Horseheads, New York. He has a fascination with Southern Tier History and wants to better understand — and share — the facets of these communities lost to time.
During his spare time Jack reads both speculative fiction and history.