BRISTOL -- Fifty years ago when Ernie Sims looked over his hilly 190-acre farm, he saw more than just a "dry" farm -- suitable only for grazing cattle. He saw an 18-hole golf course and a country club.
He invited two friends -- Walter O. Wells and John "Jack" Dille Jr. -- to stand on the spot where Elcona Country Club now stands and asked them to join him in making this vision a reality.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of that idea -- and from an original membership of 390 people the club now is the social home of 477 members.
"We've got members from every facet of life and from all faiths," said Gregg Fore, last year's club president. "Certainly if you look at our membership list you'll find people who represent a broad cross section of the Elkhart area's philanthropic organizations, businesses and government organizations.
"Elcona provides common ground for these people to meet and to get to know each other. Here they're able to communicate with each other outside the normal channels.
"The net result is that they discover ways to work together to accomplish things for the good of the community as a whole."
Throughout the year, the club has celebrated the anniversary by displaying memorabilia and by special offerings of food at 1950s prices, but all that culminates this weekend in Friday's plaque dedication and tee-off re-enactments and today's banquet.
Three women who represented the founding fathers of the club unveiled a commemorative plaque Friday afternoon.
They are Sarah Dille Erlacher of Elkhart, granddaughter of founder John Dille Jr.; Mary Jean Sims Cannell of Hot Springs, Ark., daughter of Ernest and Natalie Sims; and Sara Wells Elkin of Elkhart, daughter of founder Walter and Madeleine Wells.
On Friday, the club also hosted a re-enactment of the 1956 opening tee-offs.
Participating in the tee-off were people from six groups who have made contributions to the club: the course superintendents (Tom Zimmerman and Greg Shaffer), the club's golf representatives (Jeff McBride, Evelyn White and Barb Murphy), the golf pros (George Thomas and Tom Thome), the Founders Club members (Dave Mathias and Max Gerber), the presidents (Ray Enfield, Dewey Welch and Mike Maloney, representing John Best, the first president) and from the founding families (Wally Wells, son of Walter O. Wells, Alec Dille, grandson of John Dille Jr. and Charles Sims, son of Ernest Sims.)
Bill Riblet, who has been a member for 43 years, said, "The farm itself was called Elcona -- a name derived from the names Elkhart County, Indiana.
"Elcona was chartered as a club on Dec. 15, 1955, and the golf course opened in 1957. The club house opened in 1958."
The club is more than a golf facility. It also offers an Olympic-sized swimming pool and tennis courts.
Sarah Dille Erlacher, whose grandfather is John Dille Jr., admitted it was the tennis courts and pool that attracted her the most.
Mary Jean Sims Cannell said, "This land is so lush now with trees and grass. You wouldn't think that there were problems in the beginning but it took irrigation and a lot of hard work to make all of this happen."
"Elcona means different things to different people," said Fore. "That's as it should be."