“In building a society it should always be remembered that a congenial membership is more important than numerical strength.”  – William T. Innes (1935)

By April 2019, Dr. Ted Coletti had been involved with the aquarium hobby for over 35 years. Through college, grad school, marriage, career, and family, he kept his feet wet with hundreds of species, tanks, ponds, and fishrooms. He wrote a couple books and magazine columns, held various aquarium society positions from national journal Editor to Convention Chair, and did speaking engagements around North America. The people he met around the globe, and the friendships he made, were the best part of his hobby.

But there was one thing left in Ted’s “water change bucket list”: a club for hobbyists right here in his ruburban New Jersey Skylands. That April he learned of the passing of three local hobby friends, two within days of each other from rare diseases. Those tragedies pushed him to stop waiting for “when I have time” and create his dream club.

Creating a New Kind of Fish Club

Ted observed the clubs with the most loyal following, and the ones he admired most, prioritized 4 things:

  1. fun over finances
  2. socialization over speakers
  3. simplicity over complexity
  4. adhocracy over bureaucracy

To achieve this, Ted modeled his club after the small group format churches use, and the simpler, laid-back killifish and plant clubs like MAKA, LIKA, and NJAGC. He incorporated SAWGG as a non-profit social club under 5017c guidelines. This mandated attendance be limited to Members and their guests with opportunities for personal contact, and funding primarily through dues, donations, and assessments (removing the burden of annual auction fundraisers and 50-50 raffles). Member auction assessments and dues were kept as low as possible to meet expenses.

Ted also wanted to provide an antidote to our increasingly isolated and anonymous culture by creating a sense of belonging and connection for local hobbyists – not just a place to hear a speaker and swap fish once a month. Thus the name: Skylands Aquarium & Water Garden Group. Monthly live meetings would be around tables – not rows of chairs. Monthly Zoom meetings were added during COVID. A private Facebook Group allowed Members to stay in touch in real-time.

The best parts of traditional aquarium societies were then bolted on, but simplified to require few and mostly ad-hoc volunteers. To wit: a small perpetual Board of Trustees that meets annually or only when needed, and a stripped-down BAP, bowl show, and monthly auction. Ted took the advice of his friend Gary Jones at the Bucks County Aquarium Society who said: “It has to be fun – or we don’t do it.”

The club’s first meeting was Friday, September 6, 2019 and the format proved popular. New friends are made quickly at SAWGG and we “keep it simple, fun and friendly” per our charter’s governing principle.

If the keeping, cultivation, or conservation of aquatic life interests you, and you want to meet other hobbyists in a safe, friendly environment to share ideas, hear a Speaker, and acquire new species, click here and we will contact you about attending one of our meetings as our guest!

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