MELFA, Va. (Delmarva Now) -- Eastern Shore Yacht and County Club officials have been scrambling this week to cope with the loss of the club's main building in a devastating fire three days before Christmas.
"Of course, the first thing to say is that we are very fortunate that nobody got hurt — and that really overrides everything else," said Eric Dodge, the club's president, whose three-year term ends Dec. 31.
On Wednesday, several fire inspectors and an insurance adjustor were at the club assessing the damage, Dodge said.
The building, the first section of which was constructed in the mid-1960s, was insured.
"We have our own team of people from our membership who are experienced with insurance" there, as well, he said, adding, "We've been walking around the site over and over again."
The verdict is that "essentially, the main clubhouse is totaled." An addition known as the Harbor Room, while it suffered smoke damage, was less seriously harmed, according to Dodge.
"We're still viable in terms of golf," he said, noting 20 people came out to play golf the day after the fire — "in more a show of support than anything else."
When the fire broke out, the country club was decorated and all set to host a wedding Saturday afternoon — the wedding cake was already in the refrigerator and tables were set for the wedding reception, which around 80 guests were expected to attend.
The event was among the items foremost on club officers' minds Friday night, when they were called to the scene and watched their beloved clubhouse going up in flames.
Incoming president Steve McClasky had the idea to call Blake Johnson, owner of the Island House restaurant in nearby Wachapreague, to see if he could help out with the wedding crisis.
Dodge's wife, Peaches, said the call was made to Johnson around 11 p.m. — the fire was reported at 10:31 p.m. by two employees who were closing up for the evening.
"He said, 'How many?'" she said.
"He stepped right up without a moment's hesitation — you know, the way the Eastern Shore pulls together...He said, 'Yep, I'll figure it out,'" said Eric Dodge.
Johnson closed his restaurant Saturday afternoon for the private event, and two country club employees — the bar manager and the dining room manager — headed over to Wachapreague to help out.
The matter of the wedding cake, which was lost in the fire, was still an issue, but that, too, was readily handled, thanks to the community's spirit of coming together in times of crisis.
McClasky contacted his sister-in-law in Virginia Beach, who made a replacement cake in time for the wedding reception.
"Everybody just kind of pulled together," said Dodge, adding, "I understand the wedding came off fine."
The wedding's hosts are new members of the country club.
"So we have to bring the club back for them, if for nobody else," Dodge said.
The club's board of directors met Tuesday — the day after Christmas — to start planning for the future, and they were set to meet again Thursday.
A meeting of the full club membership, around 275 people, will be scheduled within the next two weeks or so to discuss options.
"We want to emphasize that we are not a yacht and country club as much as we are a community club," Dodge said, adding, "We are going to be looking forward to how we want to be in the future."
He noted many club members grew up going there, and held family weddings and even memorial services there.
Additionally, many community organizations traditionally hold meetings and celebrations at the club.
"So we want to be darn sure that we continue to meet their expectations — members and the community," Dodge said.
After news of the fire spread, he received phone calls from a number of past members, offering to help.
"That's the community — that's the Eastern Shore," he said.
The country club has been experiencing an upsurge in interest in the past few years, with 60 new members added in the last 20 months and the club on firm financial footing.
Additionally, a new chef was hired recently, "who is turning our dining room into a restaurant of choice" and the golf greens "never looked better," with golfing open to the public after 2 p.m., Dodge said.
"So we were really going forward in a lot of ways, and we just want to keep that going," he said.
Dodge recalled that one of the founders, George McMath, wrote in his history of the country club published a few years ago that shortly after it was founded Hurricane Donna hit the Eastern Shore with devastating effect "and put them all back at square one."
"They pulled 300 people together who all contributed enough to get the thing going — it was a real community effort to get the club started," Dodge said.
The country club typically closes during the first half of January to do maintenance, giving club leaders some time to make plans in the fire's aftermath without disrupting traditional activities.
Leadership already is looking at options to offer limited dining services somewhere offsite temporarily, so members can continue to socialize together.
Golfing is still functional — those who rushed to the scene Friday night, along with firefighters, were able to save the golf carts and golf bags.
The swimming pool and tennis courts also were unharmed, boding well for the upcoming spring and summer seasons.
"We'll have our summer camp; we'll have our sailing — all the stuff that we normally do," said Dodge.
"We are looking at this — if you can — as an opportunity," he said, adding, "We are part of the community, and if anybody wants to join, we'll take their application."