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“There were many fewer opportunities to live a healthy lifestyle. You had the bars and you had the running club.”
Lenore Beaky joined Frontrunners in 1983 and was president in both 1989 and 1990, a time when the club had about 500 members, roughly 20% of which were women. After her father died, Lenore’s family moved to New York from Pennsylvania in 1960, and she has lived here ever since. Back then New York was a place of poets and folk singers, she remembers, at least in Washington Square Park. That was before the decline of the city in the 1970s and 1980s.
After attending high school and college in Brooklyn, Lenore, 71, studied English (Victorian literature) at Columbia University. “It was always nice that you could get college credit to read novels.” Although she no longer runs, she practices yoga and Tai Chi. Lenore is retired from her job as a professor of English at La Guardia Community College at CUNY. She spoke to Quentin Fottrell at her home on the Upper West Side on March 20, 2016:
FRNY: What was the club like back then?
Lenore: The female membership has always been about 20%. We had fewer activities, but we had regular Sunday runs once a month and always the regular Saturday and Wednesday runs in Central Park. We lost both of our Wednesday and Saturday places in my first months and they were crisis events that had to be solved quickly. It’s a social club and that has always been a part of our club’s success. We lost both of those and we got them track. One of the really important things in my mind was what the rest of the world was like in New York and elsewhere, for that matter, for gay people. What was the context for men and women to join the club? How did they find out about us? Most of them went to The Center to find out about us. There were many fewer opportunities to live a healthy lifestyle: You had the bars and you had the running club.
FRNY: Nowadays, people join the club to broaden their social circle. But were there deeper reasons in 1989 and 1990?
Lenore: The Aids crisis, people losing their friends and lovers and needing a place to go to, and being — I guess — in the beginnings of the coming out process. It would be interesting to know how many people came out as a result of joining the club. And what does being out mean? How out were you?
FRNY: What was the platform you ran on for your first term?
Lenore: I was the first person to run a contested election and also the first woman. The presidents before me were Steve Gerben and Richard Walker. I’m not certain anymore exactly what I said. I don’t think that looking at the statements of all the people running for president, they’re that different. They want to support the club in its activities. They want to support the club in its relationship to New York Roadrunners, but I probably didn’t think much about that before I became president, but the general idea was to make the club a welcoming place to come and make sure that, when they came, they stayed and came back.
FRNY: What were your proudest moments during your two terms as president?
Lenore: We had a financial crisis that broke as soon as I became president. I was informed that we had $500 in the bank. We gradually grew that while I was president to a budget of around $70,000. That’s not much compared to now. That might be the thing that I was proudest of, really leading us through that. I really communicated with the entire club. We had club-wide meetings. We used to have board meetings but also membership meetings every month. We created a budget committee to establish a firmer foundation. And we got through that. We really set ourselves up for the future. I used to refer to my six crises, which was a reference to Richard Nixon. Fortunately, I can only remember four or five of them now. We came out of that without any repercussions and without any rancor. People really supported the club and it really brought us closer together.
FRNY: How come there was so little money in the bank? Was it because it was a very difficult time financially for people?
Lenore: It was probably a combination: Not enough money coming in and not controlling spending. Our various activities were expensive. Putting on track meets and trips and clothing: All of that cost money and you really have to know how to pay for it so it’s sustainable and I think, perhaps, we weren’t paying enough attention to that.
FRNY: What was your style of leadership?
Lenore: I’m a retired college professor. My style has always been collaborative, open and welcoming. I had two favorite activities as a president. Our mailbox used to be in the Village at the large post office at Houston and Varick. I would pick up the mail myself. We didn’t have a large committee structure. I didn’t do as much as people thought I did. I didn’t do everything. Steve Gerben did almost everything. I would go to this little coffee shop a block away and open the mail, and I loved doing that. I loved the presentations on Saturday morning. I could indulge my Professor Beaky persona. I think that came through with my style.
FRNY: Why do you think that the female membership has stayed at around 20%?
Lenore: It was one of my disappointments during my time as president: It didn’t decrease, but it didn’t change. The specific individuals did change. People get paired off and new people come in. As long as you can bring in new women, that’s alright. You have to keep trying to make sure that you are welcoming and make sure that the materials — the advertising — show women. I hope that it never happens that a woman comes to the club on a Saturday morning and sees no women. She’s not going to come back. I suspect that most other clubs struggle with this too. I don’t think we were the best in terms in women’s membership.
There’s another issue that I wonder about: The emphasis on racing. What is the attention given to men and women who don’t run that fast? They don’t have a seven-minute, six-minute, five-minute mile. Before I started coming to the club. I called and I asked about a Sunday run. I said, “What’s the typical pace of a Saturday/Sunday run?” The person on the other end of the line said, “Seven- or eight-minute miles.” I said, “I run nine-minute miles.” And there was silence on the other end to the line. I got the message. I didn’t come. That’s an issue. We have to give as much attention to the slower runners.
FRNY: What made you go afterwards? Did improve your time or did you think, ‘To Hell with it! This is my club too.’
Lenore: I was preparing for my second marathon and I attended workshops at the 63rd Street Y, given by a runner called Arthur Lydiard. This was incredible, this guy was world famous. I met this woman and we were running in Riverside Park. I was doing the Avon Half. She said, “What’s the Avon Half?” I realized that I needed to be with other runners who knew what the Avon Half was. I started coming on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings, as opposed to a smaller group who only ran eight-minute miles or faster. I will also mention Guy Zelenak who made it his business to run with slower runners and watch over them until he saw that they had become part of the club. One time he ran with me because I was in the back of a pack.
FRNY: How has the club has changed?
Lenore: I’m an ex-runner. The last time I came was a Saturday in December and I did go to the dinner in January. The club is larger and has way more activities. You don’t have the Sunday run, but there’s a lot of attention to training. If you’re preparing for a marathon, there is a group that will work with you at your pace. There are social activities on a Friday night. There was an issue with the Gay Pride Run in 1983 about whether we should we call it the Lesbian and Gay Pride Run. It was small. Road Runners helped us with it. It was distinctive and the total field was about 500 runners so Front Runners like me could win age group awards. Gradually it got swallowed up in the [New York] Road Runners calendar and, in fact, more than once it’s been a points’ race, which was very good for the club financially.
FRNY: Can you tell me why you won an award in January and why you won it?
Lenore: This was for the Brent Nicholson Earle American Run for the End of Aids, or AREA, Award. He founded the award. He did a cross-country run in 1987 to raise money for Aids. Initially, it was given to the first male and female winner of the Pride Run. Then it became the award for someone who’d done something special for the club. I used to think of it as the Lifetime Achievement award for the Oscars. I was the first person to win that award when it became an award for special achievement. When I received it again last January I was surprised. I was the one who created the bagel brunch. I invented it one Saturday morning during my five-mile run in Central Park.
They remembered the finances and that I had edited the newsletter and various other things, but also that I had been on this committee to evaluate, investigate the election of 2012, and the outcome of the election. The election had to be restaged and the board was confident that the resolution had been a good one and that the club was now in good standing again with confidence in its election procedures. There were certain changes made to the board bylaws as a result of our committee work.
FRNY: Finally, what were some of your most fun memories as president?
Lenore: There were the fundraisers, the parties, going to the clubs dancing, the March or Parade, Mickey Zacudo, who was my partner for a time. Mickey was the political conscience of the club and was always very militant about everything. There were other women at the time: Judy Spina, Connie Knapp, Debbie White, Anne Corey who were, particularly in the 1980s, part of the core of women members. It was a social network where you could go to the movies, and go away for different races and the Gay Games. The first Gay Games I went to was 1986, the second Gay Games. It was held in San Francisco and, in 1990, held in Vancouver. I got to meet members of other Front Runners clubs. They are all very special memories for me.
This interview has been edited for space and style.
Related: Member Profile: Lenore Beaky