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History

Excerpts from FrontRunners: How it All Began by Bud Budlong.

Lavender U. By the fall of 1973, a new concept in education had swept the country. "Free Universities" existed as free newspapers that listed classes for all sorts of things such as art, literature, crafts, photography, and of course "new age" subjects such as TM, TA, EST, yoga and meditation...A group of gays in San Francisco decided to start such a free newspaper and call it "Lavender U." The organizers hoped that it would foster social and educational opportunities of special interest to gays.

 
Jack and Gardner. Jack Baker and Gardner Pond were friends of the Lavender U. organizers and were asked to list a class. They had an interest in furniture refinishing and decided to list a class in that. They were also runners, and at the last minute decided to change their ad to a "introduction to jogging" class. As members of the San Francisco Dolphin, South End (SFDSE) Runners, one of the largest running clubs in the country, they modeled their "class" on that club, which had a "scenic run" every Sunday. They listed a two-month schedule of runs, beginning with a half-mile, adding a half-mile each week, and finishing with a five-mile run on "graduation" week.

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From left to right: Lavender U Joggers Edward Emond, Jack Baker, John Callahan, Gardner Pond, and an unknown person circa 1974.

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The First Run. The first run was on the first Sunday in January 1974. It began near the south windmill in Golden Gate Park. Each week, the run was at a different "scenic" location. When the time came to renew the ad (they hadn't planned ahead), they simply began the series over again. After repeating it a few times, they settled into a routine of listing a variety of three-to-five mile runs. For the first couple of years, the ad listed a fee of $2.00 for each series of runs, but they never bothered to collect. At some point that first year, the listing changed from "learn to jog" to "Lavender U. Joggers." Some of the early runs were Golden Gate Bridge, Portals of the Past, Stern Grove, Miracle Mile (Folsom Street), Aquatic Park, Palace of the Legion of Honor, Lands End, Dolores Park, and of course Stow Lake. Every Sunday Jack brought a gallon of coffee. Once a month Jack or Gardner would bring doughnuts.
 

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Bud Joins. Bud joined the group in October 1975 at the Golden Gate Bridge run. Weekly attendance varied from five or six to 15 or 18 out of a total of 45 or so "members." Lesbian runners were few and far between, an issue the club continued to struggle with for years. During spring and summer of 1976, Jack and Gardner increasingly asked me to schedule and lead the runs. By the end of the year I was the club leader by default. Bud soon expanded the repertoire of runs. Eventually we had 26 "scenic" runs which repeated twice a year. The group gradually grew in numbers, attracting up to 30 runners at a time. The monthly "tailgate brunch" became routine, with many runners contributing to an increasingly healthy repast. Coffee gave way to fruit juice; doughnuts gave way to trail mix. Occasionally, a group of us would go to a restaurant after the run for a real brunch.
 

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Unique Role. The club played a unique role in the community at that time. In the early 70s there were only a handful of gay organizations: the gay pool, bowling, and softball leagues, Gay Rap, and the royal courts, to name a few. There were few gay activities that were not centered around the bars. There were no gay hiking, track, swimming, skiing, wrestling, bicycling, or tennis clubs, and no bands, choruses or theater groups. For many, the Lavender U. Joggers was the first gay group they had joined. For more than a few, it was their first experience knowing and being around other gays. Although many exchanged their full names, there was no membership list. In 1978, the club first staffed a water table at the San Francisco Marathon.
 

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Lavender U's Demise. By the summer of 1978, Lavender U. newspaper had gone out of business. Not only did the club need a new way to publish the schedule of runs, but it also occurred to me (I'm a slow learner) that it was not good for any group to be dependent on one person. The regulars all agreed that we should reorganize and have paying members, elected officers, and bylaws.
 

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Reinventing Ourselves. There was a consensus that the club should be a "running club" with all other activities secondary, that it should welcome runners of all abilities from beginners to serious competitors, that it should serve not only gays and lesbians but be open to all who wanted to join, including those who could not (or would not) pay...Many gays at that time would not join an organization because they were fearful of revealing their names. We modeled ourselves on the many straight running clubs in the city, especially SFDSE and PaMaKids (yes, it means Pa, Ma, and the Kids). We wanted to join the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU)-which controlled amateur running at the time-and put on and participate in road races. We held the organizational meetings throughout the fall of 1978 at Gary May's house. Many members wanted to change the name of the club, not only because Lavender U. had ceased to exist but because many did not like the word "joggers." We voted on "Front Runners" at the second or third meeting. Half the people who came to those meetings swear the name was their idea. They are all correct; quite a few people suggested it. Yes, it was inspired by Patricia Nell Warren's novel, and no, we did not ask her permission; it never occurred to us to ask. We had a nominations committee and a bylaws committee, and we established the dues at $5.00 per year. The officers were to be elected at the first meeting in January, 1979. The first two newsletters were published in December 1978 and January 1979. They contained mostly information about joining and voting. About 40 people paid their dues and became "charter members." All but three or four listed their full names and addresses in the membership directory, a brave showing for that time which surprised us all. It was the first time that many of us knew each other's full names. By the end of 1979 there were 75 members.
 

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The First Officers. The first elected officers were Gary May, President; (Ms.) Pat Stein, Vice President; Marvin Shipley, Secretary; and Frank Churchill, Treasurer. We joined the AAU (the first gay club of any sport to do so), and Pat went regularly to their meetings as our delegate. Club meetings were held monthly at first but bi-monthly soon after.
 

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The First Gay Run. The 1980 officers were Bob Plantz, President; George Fischer, Vice President; Greg Dunning, Secretary; and Jim Milton, Treasurer. The club name appeared on the 1980 T-shirt as FrontRunners (one word), which became the club's "official" name thereafter. The Advocate magazine approached the club and asked if we would put on a race, which they would sponsor and call "Gay Run." After much discussion about affiliating with a sponsor, the members decided to do it. There were 5K and 10K runs with awards for women and men in four or five age categories. It was a great success; about 400 runners entered.
 

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The First "Other" FrontRunner Club. In the Spring of 1980 Bob Plantz got a call from Malcolm Robinson, who was editor of the club magazine for the New York Roadrunners, a huge club with about six or seven thousand members. It is the club that puts on the New York Marathon. Malcolm said he was starting a gay running club and wanted to call it Front Runners New York. He asked for permission to use the name. Bob explained that we did not control the name, and yes, it was OK. Malcolm was a nationally rated runner and he knew many other top runners who were gay. He like the way that our club welcomed all runners and discarded the idea of forming a club for elite runners. Other FrontRunner clubs formed in rapid succession.
 

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Water Fountain. In 1998 the club installed a Water Fountain in Golden Gate Park located on Transverse Drive and Kennedy Drive. There was a bit of controversy about explicitly  describing the club for fear the fountain would be vandalized so the bronze plaque reads " The Running Club for Lesbians, Gay Men and Their Friends". It is documented as the first Pride Run beneficiary by The Family Link & Friends of Recreation & Parks and proudly stands untarnished to this day.
 

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The Little Black Dress Run. In 1999, Anne Ludwig and Terri Hill of Baylands FrontRunners organized the very first Little Black Dress (LBD) Run. The event was born from the desire to have an event in San Francisco that was similar to the San Diego Hash House Harrier's Red Dress Run. An original logo was designed for the event. The social, leisurely event has continued through the years and we carry on the tradition today. 2017 LBD run video: https://youtu.be/3ZX3iKo3Uc0
 

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FrontRunner Gay Run and Pride Run T-shirts. Members have donated and collected T-Shirts and Sweatshirts since 1974. View some of the T-shirt collection Many thanks to FrontRunners Gary Beuschel and John Kruse for their contribution to the Club's history.
 

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FootPrint Cover Story. Copies of the FootPrint monthly SF FrontRunner newsletter have been saved in our archives since 1982. Take a tour of the FootPrint Covers .
 

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Footloose. In January 2007, Brian Hill introduced the FootLoose , an on-line newletter, replacing the FootPrint with Social, Tidbits, Runs and Pride pages. Bob Callori authored this website from 2007 - Jan 2011.
 

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SF FrontRunner Blog. On January 2, 2012, the SF FrontRunner Blog was introducted by Vice-President Brian Ray. The Blog contains a Home page organized by calendar date, Google's Monthly Calendar, "Ask Me Anything", a method for anyone to submit articles, and an archiving feature.
 

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SFFR Logos first appeared on ribbons as an effort for the Lavender U Joggers to "get organized" in January, 1979. They voted to adopt the name Front Runners and establish three categories of membership: Regular member ($5), Supporting member ($10) and Big Spender ($25).
 

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SFFR.ORG Remodel. On March 1, 2012, the 2011 and 2012 Board finished construction of a new sffr.org official website. The site, powered by NGIN, reorganized and simplified many items from previous sites and newsletters, making a central hub for SF FrontRunners news, events, and information. The banner changed from red with the club name and runners to blue with a narrow strip of rainbow flag colors and the Golden Gate bridge on December 7, 2018.
 

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SFFR Iphone app: was introduced as a trail period by SFFR President Dominic Paris on 8/10/14, then released to the membership on 8/24/14. Feature pages were titled: Discuss, Photos, Events, Members, and More ( Notification settings, Edit my profile, SFFR website, Leadership page and Sign out). The application, developed by Brian Glick of Groupahead, was offered to all paid SFFR members. The app was discontinued by SFFR President Brian Ray on April 10 2017.

SFFR Archive Listing of Board and Volunteer Positions. View a list of all Board Members and various Volunteer positions since the first run in 1974.

Au Revoir by Chris Charette - SFFR President 1986 & 1987

A brief history of FrontRunners was written by Chris recording his personal recollection of events as well as discovery abstracts from SFFR newsletters from 1983 - 1992. 

Chris served many positions including President, Membership Chair, T-shirt distribution and storage, Chair of the 15th Anniversary Committee and Bylaws Committee.

Click on the document below to read his incredible recounting of our club's history. 

Thank you Chris!