Amidst the plodding footsteps and rowdy dialogue of college students in the food court, an 80-year-old man with glasses and wispy white hair can be seen. His name is Frank Arthur Williams, and every Wednesday and Thursday from 12-5 he sits down and decorates table tops with chess sets.
Formerly a truck driver and figure skater in the 1964 United States Figure Skating Championship, Williams is now the founder of the college’s Chess Club, which started 12 years ago.
He will be the first to tell you creating the club was a “fortunate situation.” What simply started as enrolling in a statistics class at the college for free turned into an opportunity to start a new Chess Club on campus.
“My daughter said, ‘you can come and take [this statistics] class for free if there’s an opening since you’re older than 65.’ So, I did,” Williams said. “This is really how I became acclimated with the college.”
From there, Williams spoke with several friends and faculty members at the college’s fitness center. He learned that there used to be a Chess Club on campus, and that if he wanted to revive it, he’d need at least 10 signatures on a club ballot.
In a weeks’ time, Williams surpassed that mark, collecting 20 signatures. Once anointed as the new club founder, Williams’ first chess club meeting was held in a small room, isolated on the far-end of the campus. However, because only four of the 20 students who signed showed, attendance was low, and it forced Williams to move the club to a larger space so he could attract a bigger audience.
“I said to myself ‘this is not going to work,’” Williams said. “Nobody knows we’re here. We’re going to have to grow some and move. We needed to get students’ attention. We needed a place to attract people.”
So, after just one meeting, Williams moved the chess club from the hidden room into the middle of the food court, where hundreds of student pass by daily. Williams says the food court is the busiest place on campus and is a place where everyone can see him.
“I moved here 12 years ago, and I don’t plan on changing it up,” Williams said. “It’s allowed the club to gain popularity. There are times where I have 5-6 tables stretched out all with chess sets and people playing.”
Williams says the club brings in a new 50-60 students throughout the school year. Also, as recent as eight years ago, Williams started an annual chess tournament, which seeds 16 students this year. The winner of every tournament receives a trophy and a plaque with their name on it.
Collin Gustin, student, is the No. 1 seed in this year’s field. He says he discovered the Chess Club by walking by and playing a couple of games.
“These days, I try to play 30 minutes [of chess] a day,” Gustin said. “Coming to the club has helped me show off my skills.”
Ever since he started the club, Williams brings 10 chess sets to each club meeting, storing another 40 at his house. The benefit of playing chess and other board games, he says, is that they keep the mind active. As another year of the Chess Club passes, Williams reflects on how far the club has come since he initiated it well over a decade ago.
“I’ve been competitive my entire life,” Williams said. “I’ve bowled, I’ve skated. People play those games for their body, but I play for my mind. Checkers and chess help the mind; help you think, help you socialize. [The club] has had its highs and lows. Now, it’s a place where everyone, no matter the skill level, can play.”
This story was featured in our 50th anniversary edition.