By Kaye Bennett
One evening in 1973, Evelyn Brockway went to Vicksburg High School to play bingo with her neighbor. She was asked that evening if she would help with the game the next week and, in Brockway’s words, “One week ended up being 40 years.”
Brockway became the chief organizer of the weekly games, along the way recruiting virtually her entire family to help, amassing about a half million dollars for the Vicksburg Athletic Boosters, and becoming what Jim Mallery, president of that organization, calls, “. . . the single most important person to Vicksburg athletics over the past 30 years.” Brockway’s bingo program consistently provides more than half of the funds raised to support Vicksburg athletics.
Brockway has seen many changes in the program through the years. These include its location: Now it meets on Bank Street in Kalamazoo, but it’s also spent time at various Vicksburg schools, the old Lions’ Pride building, the Moose Hall and the VFW. Nights it’s been held have also changed: Now it meets on Tuesdays, but for years it took place on Thursdays – every Thursday, including Thanksgiving. (“Our busiest day,” says Brockway.)
These days, she says, attendance ranges from 90 to 125 or so. Despite the state’s non-smoking law enacted in 2010 and the mushrooming number of casinos, bingo remains a popular pastime. Brockway says that banning smoking at the games was a plus for her. With chronic asthma, she says, “I used to go home and get my nebulizer after bingo nights.” Brockway’s responsibilities for bingo are many. She submits quarterly reports to the state, handles salaries for the seven paid workers, buys the supplies, sets up paper and machines, and constantly comes up with new ideas for games to keep the evenings fresh.
Brockway was born and raised in Valparaiso, Indiana, and moved to Vicksburg in 1971. Her husband, Carlton Brockway (VHS ’46), died in 2011; her children are John Holmes, Rick Holmes and Carla Brockway. She has eight grandchildren and one great grandchild. As a tribute to her years of support for the Athletic Boosters, Brockway was inducted into the Vicksburg Sports Hall of Fame in 1990, giving rise to a favorite family story.
“Between my father, brother and sister,” says Brockway’s son Tom, “she was the only one to never receive a varsity letter from Vicksburg.” Rick (VHS ’83) earned eight varsity letters; John (VHS ’81) earned seven; and Carla (VHS ‘91) earned four.
“But,” says Rick of his mother, “she is in the Hall of Fame!” Each spring when Vicksburg Athletic Booster scholarships are given to graduating seniors, it’s Evelyn Brockway who hands out the checks. Two of those checks have special significance, since they come, not from the Boosters, but from herself. Based on athletic achievements and grades, one boy and one girl receive Brockway’s scholarship each year, and they always will. “That program will continue after I’m gone,” she says.
The approximately $2,000 that goes to the Boosters each month from the bingo program has financed equipment and projects for all 19 of the district’s varsity sports, says Mallery, from banners and balls to golf bags, tournaments, nets, and batting cages. Brockway’s daughter-in-law, Jennie Holmes, says, “One reason Ev got involved was because of the poor condition of the girls’ softball diamond that her daughter Carla played on. . . Little did she know that, years later, her granddaughter, Olivia Holmes, would play shortstop on the field her grandmother helped build. Olivia says, ‘Every time I play on our home field my grandma helped build, I play a little harder to thank her for all the work she has done for us.”
It has been Brockway’s “. . . passion and commitment to fundraising efforts that have enabled Vicksburg schools to stay away from pay-to-play,” Mallery says. Many other school districts in the region have begun charging fees to enable middle- and high-schoolers to participate in sports and other activities. Among the schools that charge these fees, ranging from $25 to $150 per year per student, are Portage, Climax- Scotts, Galesburg-Augusta, Gull Lake and Schoolcraft. Brockway is adamant that this not happen in Vicksburg: “I believe all children should have the same opportunity, regardless of their income level.”
Evelyn Brockway, 74, is thinking about the future of the bingo program she has overseen for four decades. Part of that future might rest in the hands of her granddaughter, Katrina Holmes. Holmes, 26, has been helping at bingo games for about seven years. She is a full-time KVCC student, a full-time employee at a pre-school in Kalamazoo, and a fulltime mom. But the importance of her grandmother’s contributions to the Vicksburg athletic program is obvious to her. “My grandma’s worked hard to build [the bingo program] up to what it is today. . . . It’s awesome that she’s created what she has.” Holmes says that she’s willing to take on the mantle some day. “When Grandma retires,” she says, “I’ll keep up the legacy.”
Mallery speaks for the Vicksburg Athletic Boosters: “All of us know the value of Evelyn’s commitment. We’ve been blessed to have her.”