UI Women's Club uses day of love to mark 100 years

URBANA – From hat to toe, attendees of the Women's Club at the University of Illinois' Tuesday Tea were ready to party.

More than 60 members, ranging in age from 30s to pushing 90, gathered in Clark-Lindsey Village's activity room to celebrate the club's 100th year the way women celebrated back when the club first began. That the celebration took place on Valentine's Day just made the event a little sweeter.

"A lot of these people really enjoy having something special on Valentine's Day," said club President Sandi Thomas. "Bringing the activity (to Clark-Lindsey, where several of the older club members live), a lot of people were able to come."

With cake, scones, white gloves and fancy hats adorning the room, the women chatted, listened to Josh McCormick play marimba, cheered for past presidents and older members and, of course, drank tea.

"This is a throwback, completely a throwback," said club past president Kathy Marshak of Champaign. "This is not our normal type of event, but it's fun."

"I came in 1941, and it wasn't the Women's Club then, it was Tuesday Tea," said Portia Cureton of Urbana. She moved to the area when her husband found a job on the UI faculty, and stuck around. "The more people I knew, the better I liked it."

Finding friends was part of the club's goal, said Gerry Reiss, who lives in Clark-Lindsey, 101 W. Windsor Rd., U, and helped plan the event.

"It was a social club for getting the wives of the professors at the university to get to know each other," Reiss said. Since then, the club has expanded to include the entire community, including men, but helping faculty spouses adjust to life in Champaign-Urbana "is still one of our goals," Reiss said.

At the Tuesday fete, attendees were serenaded with Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable," sung by the Champaign Urbana Theatre Co. as part of a Valentine's Day song service. After the song, a company member gave a rose to Mildred Johnson, whose legacy with the club goes back to her mother's membership in 1923.

Also honored with roses were more than a dozen other club past presidents, as well as women in their 70s and 80s.

Club member Cinda Pettigrew announced that the club had raised $17,000 toward UI scholarships, but were still short of the $25,000 goal.

Even more than club business and memories, the talk of the day was the hats.

Even women who forgot a headpiece could pick up a spare at the entrance.

"They've done a beautiful job of setting everything up and planning," said Marlys Clark of Mahomet. "It was a pleasure to come and see all the beautiful hats."

She was glad to be able to pull from storage her own vintage blue feathered hat, handed down from her mother.

"I'd be laughed at a lot of places," she said, "but here it's just perfect."

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