The Chatfield Women’s Community Club members, from left, Evelyn Richards, Marge Judd, Charlotte Ryan, Ann Manahan, Jean Strange, Betty French and Isy French, are celebrating 100 years in organization. They still beautify Chatfield's streets through its efforts.
The Chatfield Women’s Community Club members, from left, Evelyn Richards, Marge Judd, Charlotte Ryan, Ann Manahan, Jean Strange, Betty French and Isy French, are celebrating 100 years in organization. They still beautify Chatfield's streets through its efforts.
They're 100 years old and still smoothing town wrinkles.

"At the high point in their membership, there were 154 ladies who belonged to the club," said Charlotte Ryan, a member of the Chatfield Women's Community Club. The town beautification society's is marking its century anniversary with a dozen dedicated members doing their best to keep Chatfield's smile gleaming and welcoming.

The club's members now wear comfortable clothing, but the Women's Community Club was begun by women "who wore hats, their best dresses and white gloves," Ryan stated.

According to an article in the Chatfield News, published previously about the club, "On May 3, 1913, the first meeting was held by the women of the Chatfield community who were interested in the welfare of our city. Each church was invited to send two representatives, and 11 were present. The following women were appointed to formulate the constitution and bylaws: Mmes. C.W. Buzzell, C.H. Hanson, Jennie Bemis (later Mrs. Hendricks), C.H. Fairbanks, and E.C. Teachout (mother of Mrs. H. Thurber)."

Thirty-one women attended the first mass meeting later that day, during which the constitution was signed and the club was officially named the "Chatfield Civic League."

"The purpose was to make Chatfield a more beautiful and healthful place to live," the article noted. "The following officers were elected: Mrs. C.H. Hanson, president, Mrs. G.R. Thompson, vice president, Mrs. C.H. Fairbanks, secretary, and Jennie Bemis, treasurer."

The article pointed out, "Through the years, the club has sponsored or helped in many activities. The projects for the first year (1913) were eradication of weeds, vacant lots being cleared, children's flowerbed contests being held, benches purchased for the park and the sponsorship of a public health lecture. In 1914, a park drinking fountain was installed with the city council and the Community Club cooperating." Also stated was that the club collected articles of clothing at Christmas and sent to orphaned European children. "And a reception was held for women members of the school faculty, a practice continued for many years."

One of the most locally visible efforts the club made during its infancy is evident today, as the Chatfield Public Library stands in place of a restroom the club established. "In 1915, the club assumed supervision and care of the park and library, and a restroom with a matron in attendance was set up in the basement of the library so mothers could care for the needs of babies and small children while in town doing their shopping."

Without those ladies thinking sincerely about the needs of other women who might be patronizing Chatfield businesses, library patrons today might have nowhere to study, log onto the Internet or meet friends.

When the club was only seven years old, it joined the State Federation of Women's Clubs and gained its present name, incorporating itself officially in 1937 when it received a sizable trust fund established by the 1935 will of Mrs. Jennie Bemis Hendricks. She required that the club incorporate and that only the interest from the trust be used for the beautification of Chatfield.

The article related, "During World War I, and later World War II, the Chatfield women helped a great deal with Red Cross work."

Before it was commissioned to beautify Chatfield, the club's members held a free Christmas program for the public for the first time in 1920, and for the next 46 years, area residents enjoyed a yuletide presentation - the ladies concluded the series in 1966 with "Amahl and the Night Visitors."

The year 1924 brought the compilation and sale of a community cookbook, the ladies gathered "a ton of clothing" that was "sent to the near east, and baskets of food and other necessities for the needy were distributed."

The Girl Scouts organized a troop in Chatfield in 1926, assisted financially by the club.

Projects throughout the years kept the ladies busy meeting and conversing, giving orders and directing. In 1932, trees were planted throughout the city, in 1933, "over 100 books were added to the library," the first piano was purchased for the Thurber building in 1935. In 1939, the club organized a city-wide cleanup, voted to provide $350 for tennis courts in 1942.

The club also contributed to a street sign project to assign numbers to all residences and businesses in town to encourage door-to-door and street mail delivery. In 1957, the crafty ladies sold house numbers "in anticipation of mail delivery by the U.S. Postal Service."

That year was also an industrious one for the club, as the land "near new Highway 30 east of town known as Winona Park, now known as Shady Oak Park," was purchased, and a student exchange program was established at the high school.

At 51 years of age in 1964, the Women's Community Club was proud to witness how the Chatfield Rotary Club assigned street numbers and house numbers. Two years later, the club contributed to the construction of the municipal swimming pool and also toward the dedication of Hendricks Memorial Park, a triangle of land located on the corner of Winona St. and Highway 74, next door to Todd and Brenda Johnson's house.

In 1971, according to a history written by current member Isabelle French, "Alberta Wilson Tollefson bequeathed $4,705.37 to the club in three separate funds...there were no restrictions on sale or use of these funds, hence, the club's purpose was amended to make the club factor in the betterment of the community in which we live."

In 1973, the club installed the old fire bell on the library's front lawn, and in 1975, French observed, "the study and revision of the constitution was begun," determining that nine women would serve on the executive - or Hendricks - board, each for a three-year term, and that "the club must meet regularly. If they did not, the money would go to the city of Chatfield with no stipulations on its use and that the club would no longer be affiliated with the Federation of Women's Clubs.

In 1976, to lend a shovel to the construction of the newly-built Chosen Valley Care Center, the women purchased trees and planted them on the lawn.

In the mid-1990s, the club paid for part of the library's renovation and in 1995, the club began donating $100 toward the Chosen Valley Student Loan Fund in honor of a club member.

A scholarship fund was begun in 2004 for "a deserving high school student, secured by writing the winning essay."

About town, visitors and residents may notice a butterfly garden planted at the Chatfield Center for the Arts in honor of former elementary teacher Beverly Halvorson, a garden in the center of the city park dedicated to "Chatfield's flower lady" Virginia Andersen, and petunia baskets hanging from the Main Street lamp posts, as the club pays for half the cost of the baskets each spring.

French wrote, "The club is very interested in Chatfield youth, as is shown by yearly donations to post prom parties, Eagle Bluff learning experiences, Girl Scouts and the Student Loan Fund."

Ryan stated that while the club's trust fund no longer has a large balance, the dozen members do what they can to continue the organization's original mission, including purchasing a bench in 2011 for Hendricks Park, which is now maintained by the Root River Rabbits 4-H Club's youth.

"We donated money to Lakewood, to the Chatfield Center for the Arts, we pay half for the hanging flower baskets downtown, we give one child a trip to Eagle Bluff in fifth grade, we have flowers in the boxes at the tourism center, and we have many who volunteer at the center," Ryan added.

She commented that busy women convene still and are proud to call themselves members of the club.

"We have 12 members now, and we'd like to have more to help us keep the city clean and beautiful - we'd like interested women to please join us," Ryan concluded. "We meet from April to December, once a month, and we enjoy our fellowship and doing things around town to make Chatfield beautiful."