Belgian American Club of Chicago


History

The Belgian American Club has a long history in the city of Chicago.

The Belgians in Chicago first organized around 1904/1905 to help raise funds to build the Belgian Church, St. John Berchmans, at Logan Boulevard and Maplewood Avenue.

St. John Berchmans – picture credit David Baeckelandt

The president was Charles F. Strubbe (1857-1910) whose family originated from Bruges. He was active in the city’s public affairs, in labor circles and became a trustee of the new Belgian Church.

Almost a decade later, the Belgian-American Janitors club was formed and after several presidents in one year’s time, Gus Van Heck (1882-1968) took the leadership in 1915 for several decades and was then succeeded by his son, Ray Van Heck (1904-1984). The club grew rapidly to include more than 500 members.

Around this time Gus Van Heck was also instrumental in the growth and development of Janitors’ Union Local 1, a union that organized the janitors in Chicago. Gus had a leadership role in the union and eventually became Vice President of the Union until 1955.

As a result, many new Belgian immigrants who arrived in Chicago would become janitors and join the union as well as the club.

The club was re-named the “Belgian American Club of Chicago” in 1948 and would continue until 1997. At that time, due to the decreasing number of members the death fund, that every member was entitled to, dissolved. A group of more recent Belgian immigrants and expatriates restructured the club into a simpler format and today this revitalized organization has around one hundred member families.

Belgian Hall – Chicago

In its heyday, the Belgian American (Janitors) Club had its own Belgian Hall on 2625 W. Fullerton. The building still stands today.