A CELEBRATION OF WOMEN’S FELLOWSHIP
90 Years of Service and Fellowship
United Church of Christ in Keene
April 24, 2016
In April 2016, we celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Women’s Fellowship of the United Church of Christ in Keene. The group was formed on Sept. 16, 1925, at the First Congregational Church on Central Square from three separate women’s groups—the Home Circle, Foreign Missionary Society, and the Every Day Club—who voted to unite and form the Women’s Society of the First Congregational Church.
The Society’s first President was Mrs. Frank B. Sawyer, and its purpose was “to promote Christian fellowship among the women of the Parish and to deepen the interest in the work of the Church.” Meetings were held weekly from the first Wednesday in October until the first of June. Dues were 50 cents a year, and “must be paid in advance at the annual meeting.”
Important standing committees included: World Fellowship, Sewing, Calling, Supper, Social, Housekeeping, Flower, Parsonage, and Finance. Membership included all women of the Church and Parish.
Those familiar with Women’s Fellowship know that Rummage Sales have long been a part of our work. It was noted in the Church Bulletin for Oct. 25, 1925, that, “A Rummage Sale will be conducted by the Women’s Society, Oct. 28. Ladies having articles to contribute are asked to bring them to the vacant store on Museum Block, Court Street, Tuesday.”
Also, the Church Bulletin of Nov. 22, 1925, announced, “The Annual Sale of the Women’s Society will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 9.” This must have been the forerunner of the annual Christmas Fair.
The group was popular. On Oct. 7, 1931, the first meeting of the Women’s Society for that year had 71 women in attendance. “The President announced that [a] party was given the freshmen of the Keene Normal School by the combined six churches and our share of the expenses was $1.70. A motion to pay this amount passed.” The program opened with devotions, followed by the singing of “American the Beautiful.” Sewing meetings began at 2:30 pm and focused on projects. Program meetings, which began at 3 pm, usually featured a speaker.
A Mother-Daughter banquet took place on Dec. 2, 1931. Tickets were 75 cents, with 120 women and girls in attendance for this chicken pie supper. “Miss Frances Henrickson entertained with three violin selections, and Miss Carolyn Smiley, returned missionary from India and clothed in the costume of a high caste Hindu woman, gave a talk on the conflict for freedom in that country. [The Keene Sentinel] Miss Smiley spoke of her meeting with Gandhi. “No man has won more moral victories than Gandhi,” Miss Smiley reported. “These victories have been accompanied by passive resistance which he learned from the Sermon on the Mount.”
At the Jan. 6, 1932, meeting, Miss Ruth Seabury, a former missionary, spoke on “The Unfinished World in Which We Live.” She said, “The world is spiritually hungry and there never was a time when religion and a knowledge of God are so much wanted and needed.”
At a sewing meeting in Jan. 29, 1932, the ladies were asked to make curtains to separate Sunday School rooms located in the dining room.
On January 29, 1936, the Women’s Society celebrated its 10th anniversary at the Parish House. Mrs. George B. Robertson called attention to the coming 200th anniversary of the Church. In the 1940s, the Women’s Society continued to carry on their varied programs and activities, despite the onset of World War II.
A successful Colonial Fair was held in November 1949. “The ladies also made contributions toward the sexton’s salary, sponsored another Mother-Daughter Banquet, and gave flowers to enhance church worship services.” [History of the First Congregational Church by David R. Proper.]
In October 1950, the Women’s Society celebrated its 25th anniversary. Mrs. Frank Sawyer, the first President, and 40 charter members were honored. The Church Parlor was redecorated by the Women’s Society in 1952; the Society adopted a Korean child in 1953; and new china and new sewing machines were purchased in 1954. Monies were contributed to buy new collection plates for the Church.
In 1957, the First Congregational Church merged with the Court Street Church to become the United Church of Christ in Keene, and the Women’s Society became the Women’s Fellowship.
In 1968, Women’s Fellowship gave $1,000 toward the purchase of the Baptist Church property that became the Elsie Priest Park. The Sewing Committee continued to provide garments for the clothing needs of groups such as VISTA, Task Force Share, and the World Clothing Drive. Paperback books were sent to a trading post in Alaska.
The Christmas Good Cheer Committee packed boxes of food for the needy and donated plants for shut-ins. Also, members made apple pies and birthday cakes costing $1 each, so that parents could provide their students at Keene State College with a treat.
In 1970 Women’s Fellowship supported a foster child in the Philippines. Members contributed green stamps to obtain card tables and 500 copies of a Women’s Fellowship cookbook were sold at $2 each.
An innovative way to assist the Nominating Committee was devised in 1971. “I will be glad to serve slips” were passed out to all members who marked their preference for work. Also, Margaret Enman came to a meeting to present New Hampshire Women’s Fellowship materials and to be a guest speaker on the topic, “It’s Time to Cut the Apron Strings.”
In 1972 when the “Meals on Wheels” food service project began, WF made a donation. The Fellowship tried evening programs in 1973. That same year, WF heard a program about a Homemaker’s Service program begun by the Keene Visiting Nurses Association.
Funds for camp scholarships were allocated by Women’s Fellowship in 1974 and money to purchase a rug for the parlor was donated by Mrs. Harriet Beverly. The group began sponsorship of the Radio Ministry program in 1975. A glass top was purchased for the Communion Table.
In 1976, a highlight of the year was a Bicentennial Luncheon attended by 70 Women’s Fellowship members. Also, a picnic table was purchased for Elsie Priest Park in 1977. In the following year, two children from South America were sponsored under the Foster Parent Plan, and the back doors of the Church were installed for the price of $1,050.
In 1979 Hazel Howard made a new couch cover for the second floor Ladies’ Lounge. Other monies allotted that year included $760 for a typewriter for the office, $310 to re-upholster two chairs in the Parlor, $160 for a Deacon’s bench by the back door, with $25 to cushion it. Due to limited heat in Church during the oil shortage, Women’s Fellowship met in the Chapel with portable heating units in place.
1980 was the year a policy was enacted to ensure that proceeds from the Christmas Fair would go to Women’s Fellowship for Church projects. Major redecorating projects were completed between 1983 and 1985. The Church Parlor went from dark brown to its current colonial blue, and curtains, drapes, furniture, and lamps were purchased. Room 218, the Ministers’ officers, the main offices, and the Christian Education office were redecorated. Chairman Jeananne Farrar headed the project. The expenditure for this project totaled over $8,500, with many donations of labor and goods.
In 1985 a retreat was held at Shirley Hanna’s cottage to restructure Women’s Fellowship. Doris O’Brien organized turkey dinners to earn money for dishes for the downstairs kitchen as the 1990s dawned. In 1993, Women’s Fellowship again began providing receptions following funerals of Church family members. In 1995 under the leadership of Alma Goodnow, a grant from New Hampshire Women’s Fellowship provided matching funds through the Mustard Seed Project for the establishment of a children’s play and activity corner at the Keene Community Kitchen.
In 1998 WF gave monies to maintain Elsie Priest Park and to buy park benches. In 1999 stainless steel flatware was purchased to use in the Church kitchens. Also, a Mother-Daughter spring fashion show, “Fashions across the Generations,” was held.
The years from 1997-2000 saw the painting and redecoration of Room 218 and the purchase of carpeting and computer furniture for the offices of the Church Secretary and the Church Administrator. In 1999 Women’s Fellowship began to provide items for layettes, as part of Church World Service’s Gifts of the Heart project.
With the arrival of 2000, Woman’s Fellowship proudly celebrated 75 years of service and fellowship to the Church, the community, and the world. Jane Bemis chaired a special communion service celebrating the anniversary and honoring all the women of our church. In April 2000, the spring rummage sale netted $1,528. In May we sent 48 Layette Kits to Church World Service. In October 2000, plans were begun for a renovation of the upstairs kitchen with the help of MacMillin and Millwork Masters Carpentry. In August 2001, yet another Parlor and Room 219 renovation committee was appointed with Marjorie Hudson and Jane Bemis as co-chairs. Other members were Jane Harris, Mary Gline, Sylvia Jander, Joyce Evans, and Peg Fegley.
In October 2001, Joan Frietz and Margaret Trombley served an English Tea. In May 2002, members filled a basket with things Noah’s Wife would have brought to the Ark and then donated the basket to Heifer International Project.
In February 2003 painting of the parlor and the hall began. New drapes and slipcovers for two wing chairs were added. A large donation from Joye Barrett went toward installing new windows on the parlor side of the second floor. In March 2003, bedding and toiletries were collected for the NE Appalachian Project. The 2003 Christmas Fair netted $7,906.49 despite a snowstorm. The Women’s Fellowship pledged $5,000 to the capital fund drive for a new elevator and accessible bathrooms. WF provided lunch for the gospel choir who performed at the Jonathan Daniels Concert at the Colonial Theater in August 2005 and donated $200 to the Alstead Church after the extreme flooding in the fall.
WF hosted a reception attended by 500 people for Rev. Woody Shook’s farewell in January 2006. $7,500 was earmarked for refinishing the wood floors in the parlor, music room, and library. Mary Ellen Johnson and Diantha Dorman attended the NE Women’s of UCC Celebration VII in Burlington, VT, in January. In April 2006, a Fashion Show Fund Raiser netted $225.
The WF continued to support the mission at the Mt. Selinda Church in Zimbabwe with cash donations, clothing, linens, and postage in September 2006. In November a new utility cart for the kitchen was purchased, as was hallway carpet. In April 2007, $200 was sent to the KSC Campus Ministry and a new folding machine was purchased for the church office. In June 2007, $4,000 was spent for a commercial grade stove and refrigerator for the downstairs kitchen and in October, $200 went to the Youth Room renovation project.
In March 2008, $1,000 was donated to the Youth Group Mission trip and $1,000 was donated to the CE Committee for camp scholarships. WF donated 30 new hymnals to the church in April 2009. In August 2009, WF helped form a Women’s Faith Gathering Book Group, which meets monthly on Friday evenings, led by Vicki Moore and Barbara Leatherman.
The Women’s Fellowship refurnished the library in 2010 with new carpet, new upholstered chairs, a new coffee table, and a floor lamp, and donated $1,200 for portable staging for musical productions in September 2011. In February 2012, WF voted to financially support a monthly ministry at both Langdon Place and Bentley Commons and continued to support the Stephen Ministry.
In April 2013, Marlene Baldwin and Hilda deMoya were appointed to the committee for the 275th Anniversary of the Church. The WF organized three receptions in the fall, presented historical topics at three meetings, and provided a donation to the committee. The WF also presented 11 visitors from Zimbabwe with commemorative ornaments and tiles from the anniversary celebration.
In March 2014, four women from UCC-Keene attended the NE Conference of UCC Women’s Fellowships in Portland, ME. In May, 50 Layette Kits were sent to Church World Services. In June the group hosted a wedding reception for Debbie Latamore and Henry Malone. In June, $1,000 was donated to the Furnace Fund. On Dec. 31, 2014, the WF helped present an English Tea party, hosted by Martie Towns and Pastor Christine Boardman in the parlor.
WF voted to purchase a new refrigerator for the second floor kitchen in March 2015. In April, Barbara Hall, Elaine Kernozicky, Harriet Norris, and Mary Gline attended the Spring State UCC Women’s Fellowship Convention in Derry, NH, where Mary’s daughter, Debbie Gline Allen, was a presenter. In May 2015, 80 layette kits were sent to Church World Services.
For many years, the WF has overseen the Sanctuary and Open Door Flower donations each week, with special memorial arrangements on Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. In addition, for many years, WF has donated to many non-profit community organizations, as well as committees within the Church. The most recent Annual Report (May 2015) listed the following: $3,675 to Fellowship Needs and Church Property, $8,400 to Fellowship Church Services, and $5,450 to Total Mission Giving.
For 90 years, the Women’s Fellowship has lived its purpose: “to promote Christian fellowship among the women of the Parish and to deepen the interest in the work of the Church.” We continue to support the physical needs of the Church with our funds and the spiritual needs of our members with prayers and service.
Sincere thanks to former presidents Marjorie Hudson for gathering the first 75 years of our history and Marlene Baldwin for bringing us up to date with the past 15 years.