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PENFIELD — Behind every successful men’s organization, there’s a strong women’s group. At least that’s the case with the I&I Antique Tractor and Gas Engine Club.

The Ladies Auxiliary remains a vital part of both the Historic Farm Days held every July in Penfield and the Half Century of Progress held every other August in Rantoul.

The Auxiliary was formed in 1996 when I&I bought the former Penfield Grade School property. Mary Miller and Jane Berbaum first chaired the women’s group.

In 1995, a ladies group chaired by Mary White and Berbaum set up an antique household display at the Forest Preserve

In 1996, the show was moved to the grounds that the club bought in Penfield, and in 1997, the auxiliary was officially formed. The goal was to help clean up and purchase some of the items needed in the kitchens and elsewhere.

The Auxiliary is in charge of a number of jobs at both I&I shows and other events.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancelation of last year’s Historic Farm Days show and many of the meetings of both the men’s and women’s groups. Fortunately, the Half Century show was in its off year.

So far, it appears both the July and August shows will go on this year, I&I President Chuck Stelter said.

Food and history are a major focus of the Auxiliary during the I&I-hosted shows.

“We’re support for the club, I would say,” Auxiliary member Jane Piatt of Gifford said.

A sale and swap meet in March for which the Auxiliary provided the food has been canceled the last two years.

“We don’t do as many fundraisers as we used to,” Piatt said.

Fundraisers over the years have included soup suppers, fish fries, the Pork Palace food sales at the shows, a root beer float stand, snacks and drinks at the Lions Club tractor pulls and the Gifford bank craft sale at Gordyville.

Other events the Auxiliary has organized include a 50/50 raffle, toy tractor raffles and an annual quilt raffle.

The club also bought items for the kitchen and bathrooms in both the Penfield school and the club hall.

They paid for half of the concrete floor in the pavilion.

Most Auxiliary members are married to members of the I&I club, although any woman is welcome to become an Auxiliary member.

During the Historic Farm Days shows, the Auxiliary is in charge of many of the history exhibits of what the home used to look like back in the day.

Auxiliary Treasurer Betty Bensyl said in 1996, when the I&I bought the Penfield school grounds, the Auxiliary claimed two of the rooms in the old grade school for a museum.

“We always try to feature something a little different,” Bensyl said.

Displays show how women worked in the home and on the grounds

There’s a laundry area with clothes hanging on an outdoor clothesline, an old-fashioned kitchen, wrought-iron bedstead, general merchandise store, a one-room school, ice cream parlor, veterans corner and a children’s store.

“We learn a lot when we do the show each year,” Bensyl said. “We try to feature something new each year.”

One of the newer items is a pink stove from the ’50s.

A quilt show was later added with the help of the Penfield Quilters, plus senior citizens bingo with celebrity callers, a petting zoo, children’s games and the Sunday morning church music during the July show. Another section of the museum features Penfield Grade School sports uniforms and band uniforms.

(It was rare for a grade school band to have its own uniforms.)

The Auxiliary is also in charge of setting up the display in the old Penfield church and has helped in other ways, including assisting at the entrance gates, tractor registration and merchandise stands.

Another part of Penfield’s history featured in the museum is the town’s old livestock sale barn.

Auxiliary member Debbie Deremiah led the effort to acquire the one-room Maplewood School that had been sitting unused just north of Rantoul. It was moved to the Penfield grounds in 2015 and has been restored.

At the August show, the Auxiliary helps with the hospitality tent, at the gates “and anything else we need done,” Stelter said.

Stelter appreciates the work the Auxiliary does, noting, “We would not be able to get everything done ... without the help of the Ladies Auxiliary. They are a vital part of our organization.”

The Auxiliary meets the second Thursday of each month at the Penfield school following the men’s meeting. Pam McMannis and Traci Bosch serve as Auxiliary co-presidents, while Karen Reitmeier is secretary.

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