HINGHAM, MASS. — A FEW senior-citizen travelers have discovered a well-kept secret: The Evergreen Club. It's a bed and breakfast (B&B) club for people over 50 who not only want to travel and meet people but also to reciprocate by hosting club members in their own homes. The price is right for this friendly version of home exchange: $10 a night for singles; $15 for couples.
The Evergreen Club has been around since 1983, operating in a quiet way promoted by word of mouth and a few classified advertisements in newspapers. To date, there are only 420 members, mostly in the United States, though with a few in Mexico and Europe. Arthur Frommer calls it the best bed & breakfast in the world but the least known, in his 1989 edition of ``Arthur Frommer's New World of Travel.''
The idea for Evergreen Club came to Pat Wilson, who founded the American Bed & Breakfast Association (ABBA) in Crofton, Md., in the early 1980s to serve the then-fledgling B&B industry.
In an interview, Mrs. Wilson said that, ``Back in 1983, an article ran in an AARP [American Association of Retired Persons] publication on `How to turn your spare room into $10,000 a year profit' which mentioned the ABBA and giving their address.'' Within a few days, Wilson's office was inundated with three mailbags full of letters.
``In reading through the letters I realized that many of the people with rooms to share were located in remote places where there would be little demand for their rooms. So I began to look for a way that they might be able to share their homes even without a profit,'' said Wilson.
She also observed that the cost of staying overnight in B&Bs was becoming too high for some retirees' budgets. She also recognized that many seniors whose families had grown up and left home not only had a spare room but also a genuine desire to share their home. What was missing was a way to get these people together. A low-cost club providing a directory was the answer, she realized.
The Evergreen Club was operated out of ABBA offices until recently when it moved to Redondo Beach, Calif., with its own staff.
Joining is fairly simple. First, a member or spouse must be over 50 and have a guest room. A single homeowner or a couple fills out an application. Does the spare room have a shared or private bath? Any pets? How many people can be accommodated? Is smoking acceptable?
Applicants are also asked about where they live. Are they near a city, a famous landmark? Are they convenient to a highway? Additional questions ask about languages that may be spoken or understood, hobbies, and interesting activities or sights within a 10-mile radius.
Photos of the house and rooms, plus two references are required. The annual membership dues are $40 for singles, $50 for couples.
Once an applicant is accepted, a membership card is issued, and his name, address, and telephone number is entered into the annual directory and mailed to members. Members plan their own trips and contact other members directly to arrange visits. There is no middle man.
The $10 or $15 per night fee is to defray the cost of the breakfast, and the effort of providing a clean room with fresh linens for each overnight guest.
To maintain the quality of hospitality and accommodations, guests fill out comment cards which are returned to the club office.
New England members Charmaine and Dick Morse of Hingham, Mass., read about the club in a newspaper ad back in 1983 and joined.
``We knew we were going to California that year so we tried it out,'' said Mrs. Morse. ``We stayed in six homes along the coast because we were moving each day,'' she continued. ``Then we went again two years ago with my brother and his wife, and we stayed in six more homes,'' she said. ``We've also enjoyed homes in North Carolina, Delaware, and Virginia.''
The Morses have hosted members in their Massachusetts home. ``We're not inundated with guests, and if we're going to be away, we can say so.'' However, the Morses talked another couple into joining the Evergreen Club so on occasions when they are away their friends often fill in.
For more information send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to The Evergreen Club, 1926 S. Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach, Calif. 90277 (213) 540-9600.