By Julie Ann Madden
It’s a group where women become lifelong friends while serving their community.
“We never dreamt the club would last this long,” said Penny Hartmann while reminiscing with Joyce Thorson about Akron’s General Federated Women’s Club (GFWC) called Friendship & Service Club.
The two were charter members of the service organization, which consists of about 40 women who continually raise funds for community betterment projects and to help fellow community members in need.
Nowadays, the club hosts the annual Great Akron Scarecrow Festival & Contest as its main way to raise funds.
More than 60 years ago, Friendship & Service began in 1949, they explained, adding other charter members included Olive Boetger, Evelyn Claesson and Ramona VanderHelm.
“We met in the afternoons,” said Thorson, noting many members hired babysitters to watch their young children while they attended the monthly meeting programs. “Evelyn was our first president, serving from 1950 – 1953; then Ramona who served 1953 to 1955; and then I was president from 1955 to 1957.”
Hartmann still has the original club program, detailing the monthly meeting plans, programs and hostess schedule; and Thorson has several “idiot card” props from the group’s Shee Haw productions.
Both fondly remember the strict Roberts Rules of Order being followed during those early meetings and carrying the program “book” back and forth to the meetings.
Early on members took turns presenting programs such as “Curtains, Carpets & Walls,” and “Sew & Save.”
“We really did have fun,” said Thorson. We had fun and we could be serious — like when families needed help at Christmas time or a child needed a winter coat or snow boots or teachers needed more books or supplies.
They not only were active locally but several members took on county and state responsibilities for the GFWC.
Thorson and Hartmann often served on committees together.
“We often went to Joyce’s attic where we found different things and ideas to begin programs, table centerpieces, props and such,” said Hartmann.
“I learned early on, you don’t open your mouth unless you have an idea and something to carry it out,” said Thorson, noting she convinced the group to host the county convention one year, telling them it was “just like hosting a tea party…of course, more than 100 women attended the convention which was held in the Wesley United Methodist Church basement.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Thorson. “The food was wonderful and the centerpieces were great. We all heaved a sigh of relief and fainted when it was over.”
“You always had good ideas,” laughed Hartmann. “I just came along and held your tail.”
But Thorson reminded Hartmann of her valuable artistic talents that saved Thorson’s ideas.
“We grew and had lots of lovely young women join our club,” said Thorson, noting her mother, Opal Hummel belonged to the GFWC Tuesday Club from Westfield. When her mother served as GFWC district director, she was the county president.
Some of Thorson and Hartmann’s memories are the:
• Turkey Trot dances with “cigarette girls” selling candy bars to guests between dances in the school auditorium;
• Braschler Show in the 1980s;
• SheeHaw productions, of which there were only five: 1977, 1978, 1982, 1988 and the finale, April 26 – 27, 1996. The live donkey and chicken plus the Akron Opera House bats…the members writing their own scripts, including snide remarks about everybody in town and Jeannie Hinrichsen’s business ad quips on the program…Evelyn Claesson standing on the dresser to look out the window and saying “so perfectly” to her husband, Fred, “You should see what they’re doing over there…” and Peggy McLane in the pig suit.
• Secret Sisters, whereby members went to great lengths to be another member’s “secret” sister giving her gifts on birthdays, anniversaries and other special events during the year.
• Club’s Halloween costume parties and Christmas parties at Thorson’s house.
“There is a lot of history there,” said Hartmann.
“A lot of our life,” said Thorson.
“My husband, Gary, always liked it when I went to club. He said you’re with a good bunch of nice girls,” said Hartmann.
“We had a good time,” said Thorson.
This year, several members including Thorson and Hartmann have become “Golden Members” of the local club, meaning they are “retiring to inactive status.”
“We’ll always have our memories,” said Hartmann.
“We’d like to thank everybody who gave us the opportunity to be friends and for being our friends,” said Thorson.