'Uglys' shed rough image, shift to service
The Uglys of Haines started out as a drinking club, but they’ve quietly grown to support charities and events throughout the community, and built camaraderie and friendship along the way, according to members.
The group was launched as a Haines chapter of the UMF of America, an organization whose full name is not fit to print in a family newspaper. The UMF was founded in 1982 as a “men’s social organization” in San Diego, Calif., with a stated purpose to “take the vote away from women and take back the identity of men.”
In February of 2000, two members of the San Diego group then living in Haines – Scott McClintock and Steve Geanoulis – started a Haines chapter of the UMF. A few months later Chuck Mitman and his partner, Lea Harris, moved here from Ketchikan. New to town, Mitman joined the organization to meet people “when it was more of a drinking club.”
The group became known for its annual corn and barbecue booth at the fair. Mitman and charter member Gates Haddock built the original grill, and the money they raised went for gatherings and trips to other towns, like bowling in Skagway.
It wasn’t long before the UMF branched out into community service work. Its first project was a toy drive at the American Legion in 2001. Members served up dinner in exchange for new toys that were distributed to local families over the holidays.
In its 10th year last December, “Gifts for Grub” gathered 140 new toys for Chilkat Valley youngsters. The dinner has grown into a town tradition following the holiday parade and a “You Play Santa” drawing has been added, with winners choosing charities to receive $100 from the group.
The social aspect of the organization remained, but the UMF expanded its community involvement, assisting the newly formed Haines Animal Rescue Kennel, and donating money to families in need. “It became obvious that we could effect a very real and positive change because it’s such a small place,” said Mitman.
In 2010, the UMF received the Haines Chamber of Commerce Community Service Award for “extraordinary effort to contribute resources and time to the community, having an excellent reputation within the community, and showing respect for the community’s wellbeing.”
As the local group evolved, it pulled farther from the national organization. The break became official in 2011, when the local group achieved nonprofit status and renamed itself Uglys of Haines, with a mission statement that cites brotherhood and teamwork.
Their independent status allows the Uglys to focus on more fundraisers, and manage a nonprofit gaming permit.
The Uglys image is evolving as well. While many of the members ride motorcycles around town, they are not associated with any motorcycle club. “Even though we get along with (bikers), we don’t want to be a motorcycle gang,” said Dave Routh, a member for 11 years. “We’re just a bunch of guys that like to hang out, do good deeds, and a bunch of us own motorcycles.”
Kathryn Coleman is president of the American Legion Auxiliary, which has worked with the Uglys on the Gifts for Grub effort. “They do a lot for our community, that’s for sure,” said Coleman. “They’re all really hardworking, great gentlemen and will be there for you in a drop of a hat.”
The organization sold pull-tabs in a local bar last year, and plans to use the proceeds to fund a new scholarship program in Haines. “It’s a different kind of scholarship,” said Mitman, who hopes the funds will be able to help individuals get a leg up at a trade school.
“It might not necessarily be for a (high school) senior,” he explained. “It could be for a guy with two babies who wants to be able to live here. We could help send him to truck-driving school, and pay his room and board. From the way we look at it, for $4,000, we can see something start from the beginning and go to fruition.”
Mitman, President of the Uglys, likens the fraternal aspect of the group to a family. “Whether you’re a loner, whatever your goals are, I think we all want to belong, to have a family, someone you can trust,” explained Mitman. “Foremost, that’s what keeps us cohesive, is the brotherhood aspects of it.”
Service projects help those in need, explained Mitman, but they also build the self-esteem of the members. “The feeling that people get, that you’re just a mile away from where you want to be if you get this girl, or this job or this house, well, it ain’t any of that,” said Mitman. “You have to pretty much like yourself, and we’ve learned that by these acts of kindness that we do, it certainly does something for your self-esteem.”
While membership has remained steady at about a dozen members over the years, Mitman says the organization is open to growing their ranks. “The more members we have, the better change we can make,” he said. The only criterion for membership, according to Mitman, is honesty.