Otsego End of an era Low membership drives ladies' club to disband after 100 years

By Fran Wilcox

Kalamazoo Gazette

OTSEGO, Mich. (AP) -- An era is ending in Otsego.

The Crystal Club, a ladies' club that formed in 1911, is disbanding in its 100th year.

In 1911, the women in the area generally were farmers' wives at home raising children. Young wives and mothers were eager to be part of the club.

Now, it is difficult to find new members. Only six members remain, and they range in age from 70 to 92.

Club member Janet Cowels said they made the difficult decision to disband because the club has grown so small and younger women are either employed or not interested in their type of organization.

The Crystal Club had its first meeting Jan. 19, 1911, according to a club history typewritten by charter member Chloe Wadsworth. There were 11 charter members, who paid 10-cent dues every six months. The dues later rose to 15 cents, then 25 cents. By the end of 1911, the club had 17 members.

"A lot of the members were related to each other," member Yvonne Watson said. "They lived on all the farms around the area. Back then, women didn't work outside the home."

The early club held regular meetings every two weeks, always starting with a prayer and ending with a song. They also held contests on flower raising and poem writing, book studies, an annual picnic, bake sales and postal card showers. The members sent fruit or flowers to the ill, groceries to neighbors who hit hard times, bedding to victims of fire and money to victims of natural disasters. They did Red Cross and war work and donated to the Soldier's Memorial in Allegan County Park.

In 1926, the club sponsored the first community booth at the Allegan County Fair and continued to be an active part of the fair until 1961.

In 1929, the time the history was written, the club had 27 members. Of the charter members, five had died, two had withdrawn and two had moved away. Only Sue Richmond and Chloe Wadsworth remained active members.

The Crystal Club's original membership was all north of Otsego. Over the years, as some members moved away, the geographic base widened.

Then, as group members died, it slowly contracted again until it came down to this final group, all living within two miles of each other in Otsego. Pauline Deike, the club's oldest member, resides in an assisted living home. The members are unsure if she or Emily Kubin was the first of the six to join the group. They both joined around 1951. Kubin said she thought Deike's mother was one of the club's charter members.

"We used to do projects," Kubin said. "When we got so much older and there got to be so few of us, we mostly stopped."

The members fondly recall Thanksgiving dinners that included husbands and children, jaunts to a member's house in South Haven and boat rides in Saugatuck, where they often were guests of another ladies' club.

Janis Zimmerman joined the club in 1969 and has served as president for several years.

"It was a good way to get acquainted with the neighborhood when I first moved in," she said. "One of the ladies invited me to join. Now our little club has gotten pretty small."

Each year since she joined around 1970, Cowels has typed a small booklet for each club member, listing the club motto ("Not failure, but Low aim is crime"), the club flower (violet) and the club colors (violet and white). Bound with ribbon, the booklets also list officers, birthdays, the club collect (a prayer that serves to guide members' behavior), and the years' gatherings and events.

"When I first joined, I didn't know any of the ladies," Cowels said. "You don't dare talk about anybody because you don't know who's related to who. Everybody is somebody's sister or cousin of some sort."

Janette Willard joined the club in 1983, and Yvonne Watson joined after she retired about five years ago.

The women are different and each has her forte. Some enjoy cooking, while others prefer quilting and sewing or antique collecting.

Recent meetings have included such things as current events, readings about the presidents and antique collectors' information.

The Crystal Club also has made donations to the American Red Cross, the Diabetic Foundation and local community groups such as the Christian Neighbors and St. Vincent de Paul Society.

The balance in the club's treasury upon their disbanding will be donated to several local charities.

"We wanted to share what little we had with the community," Cowels said.

Published: Tue, Jun 21, 2011

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