Group hosts its final meeting after 125 years

Group hosts its final meeting after 125 years

MONTICELLO — For many of the trials and triumphs of the last 125 years, the Monticello Woman's Club has been there.

Need a library? These women helped form a stock company that resulted in construction of the Monticello Community Building, completed in 1897.

Women's suffrage? Yep, they were right there, fighting for their right to vote.

Hungry children after the stock market crash of 1929? They hosted lunches that fed 95 kids each Wednesday during those tough times.

And all along they were learning — from German opera and history to technology and the arts — along with pushing for women's rights along the way.

But membership that at one time topped 100 has dwindled to 14, and the club hung it up for good this month, celebrating its final meeting with a skit to remember its heritage.

Ironically, some of the issues that were pushed by the club to give women more rights may have contributed to its declining numbers.

"Women are doing different things now. Young women are now busy with kids, sports after school, other activities," said the group's last co-chair, Madonna Davis.

The fact that more women are in the workplace these days also makes it difficult to perform service projects, many done during the day.

"There is little time to do club work," Davis said.

The group officially disbanded at a final meeting at the Allerton Public Library, followed by the dramatic reading by members Marilyn Benedino and Colleen Vaughan, who told of dreams of being in the shoes of Jeanette Crea and Ella Noecker, the club's first president and vice president when it was formed in 1893.

"We decided to meet weekly and one week later — on Feb. 22, 1893 — we were established as a club. Members would be chosen by secret ballot. Dues were to be 25 cents. We even adopted a motto — 'From Possibility to Reality,'" Benedino said during the presentation.

Early meetings were not only about learning, but about singing.

"And we loved music," Vaughan said in channeling the club's first president. "I remember, the song we sang to open our meetings back in the early 1900s, 'She's Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage.' And we always ended the meeting with 'A Bicycle Built for Two.' I guess what we meant was, we were wanting to get out of the cage and get moving independently, even if it was on a bicycle."

Davis, a member since 1990, enjoyed all 28 years of her time in the Woman's Club.

"Over the years, you bond with the people you might not have met otherwise. So for me, I've appreciated every step of the way," she said.

That social aspect of the club may continue.

"We've talked about having an alumni club once a month. It's been very educational, you bond with each other," said co-chair Marion Suhre, who had been a member of the club for 36 years.

Although the group struggled with low numbers in recent years, the decision was made to hang on long enough to reach its 125-year milestone, which was achieved in February.

Its history lives on with the club's meticulous records, now in the hands of the Piatt County Historical and Genealogical Society.

"I am very pleased that the Historical and Genealogical Society has every treasurer's report for 125 years. Every minute that was written — in beautiful handwriting — and I hope the community will go ahead and resource that," Suhre said.

Davis said all of the good work the club was able to accomplish was due to community support, including the sale of discarded Community Building tiles that were repurposed into Larry Ziemer artwork, and afghan sales.

"All of the things that we were able to do, a lot of it we were able to do because the community supported us," Davis said. "I mean, they bought the tiles, they bought the afghans. They helped us to do things we were able to do."

Steve Hoffman is editor of the Piatt County Journal-Republican, a News-Gazette Media community newspaper. For more, visit journal-republican.com.

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