Many people have asked how S.O.L.A.R. came to be. Following is a brief history of S.O.L.A.R. In 1974, Peg Campbell read an article in the newspaper that the Washtenaw County MSU Extension Office was recruiting 4H Leaders. Peg signed up to participate in a new program, the 4H Challenge, which was going to be offered through the MSU Extension Service to train kids in outdoor skills. The program’s mission was to “train adults interested in using the outdoors to help develop life skills in young people. The program included training in backpacking, caving, canoeing, rock climbing, map and compass orienteering, winter camping and first aid. Adults receiving the training were expected to work with young people in the 4H Challenge Program. Peg attended the 16 week 4H Challenge Leader Training Course taught by Doug Maddox and Bill Halvangis. After the 16 week Leader Training Program ended Peg agreed to help train a second group of leaders.
Although 4H decided to stop the training program, friendships were forged during the first and second leadership training programs. Several of the participants decided to start a club to continue their outdoor adventures as a group. The group talked about calling the club AIM (Adventures in Michigan) and a few other assorted names, but when the name S.O.L.A.R. (School for Outdoor Leadership, Adventure, and Recreation) was suggested, everyone was in agreement. The group started meeting to establish the structure of the club and write by-laws. S.O.L.A.R. was officially formed in 1975. The Club bylaws state that the purpose of the club is “(A) To promote and advance interest in the outdoors through information and participation in activities related to the S.O.L.A.R. program, and (B) To provide a medium and a format for the exchange of ideas, information, skills, equipment, etc. related to the planning and conducting of outdoor activities, expeditions, etc. by and with people who are interested and involved in supporting and promoting these purposes as stated”.
S.O.L.A.R. approached Livonia Parks and Recreation about offering classes through the organization. Livonia Parks and Recreation started advertising the classes in their catalog, provided classrooms and meeting space. Our ties to Livonia Parks and Recreation was discontinued after a few years because of budget cuts. There was also a period of time in the early 80’s when S.O.L.A.R. was a subgroup of AYH (American Youth Hostels). As the club grew we needed a larger meeting space. Bob Westbrook and Bill Halvangis went shopping for a new place to hold the monthly meetings. This is when Aries Colony Hall in Southfield was found. To this day, we still hold our monthly meetings at Colony Hall.
Thirty three years ago the classes that S.O.L.A.R. promoted were vastly different from what they are now. In the early years, S.O.L.A.R. had classes such as Nature Study, Fishing, Bicycling, High Ropes, and Windsurfing. Some classes that have stood the test of time include Backpacking, Enjoying Michigan Winters, Wilderness First Aid, Survival, Kayaking, Cross Country Skiing, and Rock Climbing, which have been taught every year since S.O.L.A.R. began. New classes have been added over the years to accommodate new members and new interests. Some of these classes include Intermediate and Advanced Backpacking, Search and Rescue, Mountaineering, SCUBA, Introduction to Car Camping, Introduction to Adventure Racing, Canoe Paddling, Tree Identification, Gardening, Mountain Biking, and Women in the Woods. In addition to classes taught by volunteers who want to share their knowledge and experience, S.O.L.A.R. provides a forum where members can organize trips and activities and invite other S.O.L.A.R. members to join them. Since we are a volunteer organization, our knowledge, interests, and adventures are as diverse as our members. There have been more trips and activities than I could possibly mention, from dog sledding, backpacking, caving, white water rafting, bicycling, and travel to places like Costa Rica, Tuscany, San Juan, and Tibet. Special mention should go to Leslie Cordova who holds the record for ¬ leading more than 60 activities to date.
So, what is S.O.L.A.R. today? S.O.L.A.R. is made up of approximately 450 individuals with a passion for the outdoors and a willingness to share their skills in a loosely structured volunteer organization. In other words, YOU ARE S.O.L.A.R.. Bob Westbrook, who was S.O.L.A.R. Vice President in 1977, put it nicely when he said that when he joined S.O.L.A.R. he admired the easy grace and experience of S.O.L.A.R. leaders. As time went by and S.O.L.A.R. leaders shared the benefit of their experience, somehow a transition seamlessly took place and Bob found himself exhibiting the same easy grace and experience in the outdoors. It is a “play it forward” experience. Members share their experience and knowledge with others thus providing new members with the experience and easy grace to pass on to more new members. Bob also said that we just wanted to share our knowledge so we would have someone to go play with in the outdoors. A big thank you goes out to all of the “tribal elders” for making S.O.L.A.R. what it is today.
(Acknowledgement – Special thanks to Carol McCririe who spent 30+ hours creating a 15 page history of S.O.L.A.R. for our 30 year anniversary celebration in 2006. Much of the content above was pulled from Carol’s document).