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Ask Me: 11 businessmen founded local Better Business Bureau

Cooper’s department store at 1301 Fulton St. in July 1952. Ross Maher, merchandising manager of Cooper’s, joined 10 other local business leaders to found the Better Business Bureau of Fresno County in 1950.
Cooper’s department store at 1301 Fulton St. in July 1952. Ross Maher, merchandising manager of Cooper’s, joined 10 other local business leaders to found the Better Business Bureau of Fresno County in 1950. Fresno Bee file

Q: We are tracing the history of the Better Business Bureau in Fresno, which dates back to the founding of the organization on March 13, 1950, but our records are incomplete. Would you be able to help us with the names of the businesses associated with the original founders?

Blair Looney, president and CEO, Fresno

A: A Better Business Bureau existed in Fresno from at least the 1930s, but the Fresno County organization founded in 1950 was chartered for the first time by the national Associated Better Business Bureau, Inc.

The founders and members of the first board of directors represented various categories of businesses in the city and county.

The 11 founders of the Better Business Bureau of Fresno County and their businesses were:

Victor B. Bengston, partner in the Bengston-Holt Lumber Co.; Norman P. Byde of the Walter Byde Co. hardware store; G. Fred Fischer, proprietor of the N. Nielsen Jewelers; Elmer Lord, president of the Fisher-Glasford Co.; Ross Maher, merchandising manager of Cooper’s department store; Frank Oneto of the Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Co.; William L. Rogers of Abbott-Rogers Telephone Answering Exchange; Arthur R. Roth, owner of Roth Furniture Co.; Gerald Slater, owner of Slater Furniture Co.; W.H. Von Elm, assistant manager of the Anglo-California National Bank; and H.L. Wade, owner of Wade the Jeweler.

Other local businessmen served with most of the founders on the 24-member board of directors.

In a Feb. 15, 1950, Fresno Bee story, Byde, who served as president, said the purpose of the Better Business Bureau would be to “promote and assist in maintaining truth, honesty and accuracy in advertising and selling practices” of businesses in Fresno County.

The 1950 board was appointed by the founders until an election could be held the following year, Byde said.

Q: What is the history of the Edison Social Club? My mother and aunts used to attend activities there.

Linda Halk, Fresno

A: A 26-page booklet prepared in 1996 for the Edison Social Club’s 75th anniversary tells the story of the club’s founding.

“On the night of June 21, 1921, a group of young men were meeting under the light of the C Street bridge when talk, as usual, turned to the organization of a social club, especially for young marrieds,” the booklet says.

One of the young men, Henry Salwasser, said, “We have talked long enough. If we’re going to organize a club, let’s do it now,” as the story goes. So the group of about six friends walked east on California Avenue and “picked up more recruits” as they went.

By the time they reached Slim Martin’s Garage at California and Cherry avenues, the group had grown to 14 men who founded the club that night.

At first, it was known simply as The Club, but soon a contest was held to find a name. P.A. Fries won the $5 prize with his suggestion of Edison Social Club. Fries said he picked the name because “we are in the Edison Technical High School district, and the name readily suggests the geographical location in our city to anyone hearing the name.”

Ernest Kerner was the club’s first president. The initiation fee was $1, and monthly dues were 50 cents. The membership soon grew to 400. “For refreshments on meeting nights, members brought sandwiches from home,” the history said.

As the club prospered, members took an increasing interest in civic affairs. The club gave holiday food baskets to needy families, organized many fundraising events in west Fresno and served on many community organizations, the history says.

From its founding until the early 1950s, the Edison Social Club sponsored Boy Scout Troop 14. A women’s auxiliary of the club was organized in 1940.

The club met in various locations around town until the mid-1960s, when its current hall was built at 3325 W. Clinton Ave.

Throughout the years, the nearly 95-year-old club has continued to hold various functions. Today those include dinners, monthly bingo nights and a November turkey raffle. Members also make and sell sausage four times a year and beerocks three times a year.

More about: After the answer to a question about Coffee’s clothing store was published Jan. 10, Sharon Watson of Oakhurst sent memories of the store where her father worked.

“My father, Clifford Robertson, was an employee of Mr. Coffee’s for 42 years, starting in 1934 or 1935,” Watson wrote. As display manager, her father decorated the store windows and arranged the displays inside the store.

“When the store was at 1025 Fulton St., my brother, Gary Robertson, and I would get to go upstairs into our father’s storage rooms full of mannequins, both intact and in pieces. There were arms and legs on tables, in cupboards and on the floor. It was kind of startling at first glance for a couple of young kids,” she wrote.

“As kids we always enjoyed getting to go upstairs to the offices of Coffee’s and lean out the windows overlooking Fulton Street and watch many of the parades Fresno used to have,” Watson recalled. “One in particular was the Fresno County Centennial Parade (in 1956) and getting to see Hopalong Cassidy (played by actor William Boyd) and his horse, Topper. Quite exciting for two youngsters in the 1950s.”

“Coffee’s was a special store. All the employees worked there for years and years,” Watson wrote. “They each had their own clientele and knew exactly what their customers wanted. If something came in that they knew their customers would like, they’d call them. The staff at Coffee’s was like family. We miss that type of store.”

Ask Me publishes on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Paula Lloyd is a freelance writer. Send questions to or by mail to Paula Lloyd, c/o The Fresno Bee Newsroom, 1626 E St., Fresno, CA 93786. Please include your name, city of residence and a phone number.