National Croquet Center
is Steuber's rich legacy
by Bob Alman
layout by Reuben Edwards
photos by Bob Alman, Joe Camosy and the National Croquet Center
Posted September 1, 2008
Chuck Steuber's death at his home in Boca Raton comes almost eight years
after a severely debilitating stroke left him unable to actively manage the remarkable enterprise that is his legacy - the 10-acre Charles P. Steuber National Croquet Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. Although the membership club was established when the lawns were playable in late 2000, and many major events were held on its twelve lawns over the next two years, the Center was not fully operational until the clubhouse was completed in May of 2002. Under six different generations of management in as many years, the Center has yet to achieve financial self-sufficiency, while dedicated donors continue to preserve the legacy of its founder, who spent millions of his own personal fortune to make it happen, against all odds.
Chuck Steuber didn't start out intending to spend four and half millions of
his own personal fortune to get the National Croquet Center built exactly as he
envisioned it. But once he had determined on his course, he was willing to
do anything necessary to make it happen. Although many wealthy croquet players
did accept his invitation to make donations of $100,000 or more, their number
didn't come close to the seven million or more needed to get the Center built
and to provide sufficient capital to develop it and maintain it in its
critical first years of operation.
|Charles P. Steuber
When Steuber became the fifth president of the Croquet Foundation of America
- in the late 90's - it was at a time when the USCA's difficulties in finding
a secure headquarters combining court and office space were recognized as a
major and ongoing problem. It was only natural that Stueber would want to solve
this problem by creating an American headquarters for the sport unrivaled in
its size and magnficence anywhere in the world. No longer would the
Association and the Croquet Foundation of America be at the mercy of landlords
where croquet was a very small part of a huge resort operation.
|Joe Camosy's prize-winning photo of the Charles P. Steuber National Croquet Center displays a resplendent clubhouse under hurricane-prone skies.
He enjoyed being the ultimate authority in the entire process, from the
beginning, and personally involved himself in all the major decisions. He chose
the site of the Center, he was there when the bulldozers came, he hired the
architect and the interior designer and could not be dissuaded from including
elegant and expensive elements in that design as well as a ballroom for 250 that
added considerably to the cost of the building through the additional code
requirements for second-floor halls of that kind. He approved every detail of
the club structure and dues I drafted for him to review, along with the croquet
director, Archie Peck. He approved and bankrolled the first Golf Croquet World
Championship to be held at the Center, in February 2002 - the event that
announced the Center as the new "croquet mecca."
His management style was loose, to say the least. Once he hired the
essential staff, he counted on them to figure out what to do, and they came to
him when there were problems or conflicts that only "the boss" could solve.
|In February of 2000, feeding trash wood into the grinder was the last step before construction of the 12 lawns could begin by hauling in many tons of sand
to raise the elevation of the site by a couple of feet.
Steuber was confident of the future of the Center, because he was going to be
completely responsible for making it happen and making it work. When the
Center was planned, he was healthy and vigorous, though approaching 80. When
without warning he suffered a severely debilitating stroke in late 2001, little
more than half a year before the clubhouse was to be completed and the finished
Center opened, the personal tragedy also dealt a devastating blow to the
Center. No longer would absolute financial and managerial authority rest in one
person's responsible hands.
|On December 2, 2000, the lawns opened with two events, under the supervision of Bob Alman and Director of Croquet Archie Peck (right), to much excitement
in the croquet community and rave reviews in the local press.
In the care of his family, in Boca Raton - about 30 miles south of the Center
- Steuber heroically tried to carry on his life as usual, refusing to sit in
the wheelchair that his condition made not quite mandatory, insisting on
walking upright with a cane, even with almost no strength in his afflicted right
side. As it turned out, he outlived his beloved wife, Peg, by a couple of years
and lasted almost eight years after the stroke.
|Chuck Steuber celebrated the "soft opening" in December 2000 with Shereen Hayes, USCA office manager, in the huge maintenance building that was soon to
house the offices of Alman and Peck on one end and the USCA staff on the other,
while the clubhouse was being completed.
Given Steuber's personal integrity and strength of will, it is easy to
imagine that the Center would be in excellent financial health today if only the
financial and managerial accountability had remained in the hands of the one
capable individual who created it. No one person is to be blamed for the
organizational chaos that followed Steuber's stroke, and most observers in the croquet
world are content to simply hope that these affairs will settle themselves
out over time. In fact, many in the croquet community have made major financial
contributions to that effort. And many individuals continue to donate their
time and energies in roles ranging from part-time to full-time unpaid
volunteers, to keep Steuber's croquet showcase up and running.
The owners of the facility - the Croquet Foundation of America - have seen a
constant shifting of authority and responsibility among their board and
officers. In a depressed post Nine-Eleven hospitality market amidst widespread
rumors that the Center was going bankrupt, the prospects for the survival of the
Center when the clubhouse opened in May of 2002 was not good, and that public
knowledge severely affected the management's ability to sell events to
corporations and private parties.
Despite those rumors and the obvious financial difficulties, membership in
the club was growing and enthusiastic in 2001, 2002, and 2003, with volunteers
shouldering much of the work that was to be done by professional staff in
later, more prosperous circumstances. I organized the club and managed its
development until July 2003, leaving the Center in the care of a committee of
volunteer, unpaid, offsite managers, while the onsite caterer helped to keep the
enterprise in a growing mode by personally investing in the marketing of events.
|By October 2001, the National Croquet Center was a fully functioning first-rate croquet venue - the largest in the world - but still lacking a clubhouse. This photo from the second floor of the uncompleted clubhouse shows how major events were run in that period - including the Solomon Trophy matches and the first USCA national championships to be held there. In the background is the maintenance shed, fronted by the "Festival Tent" that served for catering, meetings, and shelter from the occasional shower.
In early 2004, John Curington, current president of the Croquet Foundation of
America, arranged with the Steuber family the gifting of the considerable
debt owed to him, which enabled the Foundation to finally borrow development
capital with the Center as unencumbered collateral. In 2004, a professional
manager was hired, and that manager had sufficient money to spend on
long-deferred but essential investments in development, including specialized staff for
marketing and promotion.
However, this manager, at first hailed as "the savior of the Center," left in
acrimony after his one-year term expired, and a series of short-lived
managers followed, each of them failing to provide professional business
development expertise needed to achieve financial self-sufficiency for the world's largest
croquet club and at the same time oversee the continued development of the
The current manager (in August 2008) is a volunteer, unpaid, part-time
manager who has made some significant contributions to the Center's
organizational structure, but who has been unable to develop the membership club sufficiently to approach the much-desired and elusive break-even point.
|The Charles P. Steuber National Croquet Center in 2008 operates as many enterprises in one location. This USCA headquarters facility hosts many national and international events, including the World Championships of croquet in May of 2009. Also in residence is the Pro Shop, the event marketing staff, and the resident caterer, Sandy
James, operating the Croquet Grill. The Center is most respendent when large, elaborate corporate parties are held there. These events may include meetings in the upstairs ballroom, dining downstairs on the wide wrap-around veranda and in transparent tenting connecting to t
he clubhouse, and hundreds of party-goers playing casual Golf Croquet on as many as 24 half-courts.
Within the croquet establishment, given the history of disappointed
expectations from half a dozen generations of management in as many years, there
is not a great deal of optimism that the Center can soon achieve economic
self-sufficiency. At the same time, there is a widespread conviction among the
croquet establishment that this magnificent Center must be preserved at all costs,
after so much investment in its creation and maintenance. One Palm Beach
stalwart told me, "We simply won't allow this Center to be lost to the sport."
Some notable efforts had already been made, before Steuber's time, to secure
a suitable headquarters facility for the sport in America. In the late
nineties, John Curington had come close to making a breakthrough agreement with
city of West Palm Beach for a multi-court facility in the city's centrally
located Howard Park, near the Convention Center, but the proposal was finally
voted down by City Council because, they said, the croquet activity would have
been too overpowering a presence in this central location.
It's possible that this well-publicized near-miss spurred Chuck Steuber's
determination to create a headquarters facility. Curington was the initial
Project Manager at the Center site, overseeing the building of the 12 lawns,
which were playable a full year and a half before the Clubhouse was completed
following a series of expensive delays.
Curington, current president of the Croquet Foundation of America, responded
to Croquet World's request for comment on Steuber's passing:
" We all know and appreciate the financial contribution of Chuck. His gift
made the National Croquet Center a reality. But what I admired most about Chuck
the man was his love of the game and the spirit he brought to the organization
and the individuals he had contact with - on and off the court. Chuck was a
real gentleman who epitomized the ideals of our sport and the meaning of the
word sportsmanship. We are all saddened and will deeply miss our friend and
benefactor, Chuck Steuber."
|Chuck & Charlie Steuber
Rich Curtis, president of the US Croquet Association, said of him: "His
vision, tireless efforts and generosity made the dream of the National Croquet
Center a reality and in so doing, he significantly advanced the presence of
croquet in America. All croquet players in the United States are indebted to
Chuck and his life will continue to be celebrated by each of us each time we have
the privilege of competing on the lawns of the NCC."
THE EDITOR'S PERSONAL ASSESSMENT
OF THE MAN AND HIS CROQUET LEGACY
Chuck Steuber's personality profile does not fit - at all - what one would
expect of a self-made millionaire. He was too generous and openhearted, too
trusting, and displayed far too much humility - which, as I observed many times,
In my first long meeting with him - in early 2000, after I had heard the
astonishing news of his intentions and then flew to Florida to offer my
- I questioned him casually about his career. I asked how he had amassed all
that money. He replied, without apparent thought or hesitation, "I was
lucky, it was all an accident." Of his breakthrough contributions to the
chemical tanking industry, he told me that he had first proposed the idea to his
employer - Union Carbide - and only when they clearly weren't interested did he
pursue investors for the project on his own and form the company that was almost
an overnight success. Later he described to me another bit of "good luck" -
making millions by buying and later selling Home Depot stock at exactly the
right time. "I was just lucky," he told me.
A big part of that good fortune, he told me, was persuading his hometown
sweetheart to marry him. "I would never have made it without her," he told me.
(His wife Peg died at their Boca home in 2006.)
Up to his 80th year, he seemed to have lived a charmed life. Such a person,
with such a strong sense of personal integrity, must surely have been deeply
religious. But no. Chuck Steuber was profoundly distrustful of organized
religions and all other schemes that delivered paid-up packaged philosophies to
devout adherents. He wanted to think for himself, he said. His own distinctly
secular memorial service - at his club in Boca Raton - was described by his
family as "A Celebration of Life."
Steuber enjoyed exercising total authority in the project to build and
develop the National Croquet Center, and he had the money to back up all his
decisions. Although his management style was unbelievably loose, there was
nothing casual about it. When I moved to Florida to organize the club and manage its
development, I asked him what my title should be, and he replied, "Whatever you
think it should be." I decided that "Director of Marketing, Development, and
Community Affairs" would be the most useful description to put on the
business card I would hand out by the thousands in those formative years of
circulating throughout Palm Beach County to publicize the new Center.
It's useless to declare, now, that the Center would be financially successful
today if not for the debilitating stroke that took him out of the picture,
practically speaking, in the fall of 2001 - the same season in which the
Nine-Eleven disaster plunged the South Florida hospitality industry into a
two-year recession, with disastrous financial consequences to the local economy and to
the National Croquet Center.
But the fact is that since Steuber's stroke, there has never a time since
when financial and managerial accountability for the Center resided within one
individual with the intelligence, will, and resources to make the enterprise
Often, in discussing the critical issues involving cooperation with the other
croquet entities, he would comment on the character and expertise of some of
the principal players in the croquet establishment, the people who had
attained office and therefore could not be ignored. "I know the guy is
second-rate," he once commented of one especially inept personality with a title, "but for
now, we can't ignore him. Don't worry about it. I'll handle it." And he did
- until he had the stroke. He would attend the obligatory meetings, he would
listen patiently....and then he would call or meet with me and we would
decide what was to be done.
Chuck Stueber was slow to anger but quick to let it go when the moment
passed. He hated confrontation. On two occasions when I was reported to have
done something really bad, he didn't trust himself to speak to me about it -
instead, he wrote me letters. One one occasion, I apologized, because I had
done the wrong thing, and I knew it; another time, I had simply replaced the bullshit
with accurate facts, which were accepted. In both cases, the matters were
His perceived faults provide the most powerful testimony to the strength of
his character. He was too quick to action, too trusting of people; he really
wanted to believe whatever they told him. I often heard the complaint, "He
agrees with the last person he talked to about it!" Early in the history of the
National Croquet Center, on the basis of a single phone call from a man whose
proposal I had turned down for good financial reasons, Chuck made a financial
commitment that would be costly and yield no benefit. When I found out about
it, I called Chuck, who related to me various inaccurate statements made to
him, on the basis of which he had made the financial commitment. After I had
provided the demonstrably accurate facts, Chuck would still not rescind the
agreement. No papers had been signed, no legal contract formed: But he was
unwilling to go back on his word, even after he acknowledged that he had given
his word on the basis of inaccurate information.
Faulting him for being true to his word would be unfair, so I simply
requested that he never again make a commitment bearing on my responsibilities
in managing the National Croquet Club without checking with me first. He gave me
his word, and he kept it.
Chuck Steuber lived by his word, the mark of an honorable man. That kind of
integrity is not merely a badge of honor. He said it was all good luck, but I
believe that living your life around the principle of giving and keeping your
word - every time - is as solid a foundation for a good life as you can find
in any religion or philosophy, or for that matter, any school of business. I
won't try to prove it, and Chuck would have objected to any suggestion of
"karma," but I believe it had something to do with creating what Chuck always
described as his extraordinarily "good luck." I believe Chuck Stueber made his
own good luck.
His friends, his family, and the croquet community have all enjoyed the great
good fortune of Chuck Steuber.
- Bob Alman, Founding Editor, Croquet World Online Magazine
THE OFFICIAL OBITUARY
IN HIS HOMETOWN NEWSPAPER
Steuber, Charles P. (Chuck), died at home, surrounded by his family, the
morning of Wednesday, August 27, 2008. He was 87. Born December 26, 1920 in
Milwaukee, WI, he was the son of Charles H. Steuber and Alma Paul Steuber. He
was educated at Hartford and Riverside schools in Milwaukee and majored in chemical
engineering at the University of Wisconsin where he was also a member of the
Alpha Delta Phi fraternity.
Chuck started his career with Union Carbide and by 1947 was marketing
director for Union Carbide's European sales and instrumental in establishing
European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1949 Chuck married Margaret
(Peggy) Morris, also from Milwaukee, and the newlywed couple lived in Geneva
until Chuck finished his career with Carbide and returned to New York to start
his own company, while Peggy raised their eventual family of three children.
In 1951 Chuck founded a company that became a pioneering merchant firm in the
transportation, storage and distribution of petrochemicals. At that time, all
chemicals were transported around the world in 55 gallon drums. In the 1950's
a few companies experimented with modifying existing plain steel petroleum
tankers to transport some chemicals in bulk. Then, in 1961, Chuck built the
world's first tanker with individual pumps and lines to an array of specialized
tanks designed to maintain the high quality specifications of most products in
the petrochemical industry. The ship was christened the S/S Alchemist and was
the progenitor of all the ships that service the global industry of today.
Chuck was also a pioneer in the bulk storage of petrochemicals. He built several
facilities around the world, the largest of which was Eurotank in Antwerp,
Belgium and became the largest such facility in Continental Europe. The Steuber
Group of companies were also involved in the marketing and distribution of
chemicals with firms located throughout Europe, the United States, Asia and
After living in Pelham, NY for 27 years, Chuck and Peggy moved to Boca Raton,
FL in 1983, but kept a summer home in Rye, NY. By then Chuck had retired, but
his venture capitalist and visionary spirit kept him busy with several
projects. He funded what has become a very successful Internet fulfillment company,
Dotcom Distribution, which, in a way, aspires to the pioneering storage and
shipping success in the cyber world that Chuck achieved in the chemical
He also became very involved in his chosen sport of competitive croquet. At
that time any substantial tournament play involved organizing a patchwork of
courts at local estates or area Country Clubs and resorts. The croquet world
dreamed of having their own dedicated center for the greater enjoyment and
promotion of the sport. In 2000-2001 Chuck purchased land, funded and built what
became the Charles P. Steuber National Croquet Center. It is comprised of 12
laser-leveled courts, a 18,000 square foot club house on 10 acres of land in
West Palm Beach and is today the jewel of the croquet community at large.
Chuck was also a member of the U.S. Croquet Association Hall of Fame. Chuck
is survived by his sisters, Marion of Paw Paw, MI and Ruth of Milwaukee, WI;
sons, Charlie of Lighthouse Point, FL and Victor of Eugene, OR; daughter Midge
of Jerome, AZ and two grandchildren, Lucas of Portland, OR and Robyn of Eugene,
OR. He was predeceased by his wife of 57 years, Peggy. A Celebration of Life
Ceremony will be held at the Royal Palm Yacht Club at 4:00 PM Saturday, August
30th. In lieu of sending flowers, the family requests those so inclined make
a donation in Chuck's name to the charity of their choice. KRAEER FUNERAL HOME
1353 North Federal Highway Boca Raton, Florida 33432 (561) 395-1800
- Published in the [Florida] Sun-Sentinel on 8/29/2008