by Gabby Landsverk, Sun Sailor Newspapers
Walk into a meeting at the Mizpah Church in Hopkins, a visitor just might see “a sea of gray hairs,” according to Woman’s Club member Marge Carstens. Much more than just a social club for retirees, the Hopkins Woman’s Club has been bringing gals young and old together for more than 100 years to support each other and their community.
While the club is certainly not the only club of its kind in the metro, it is one of the oldest, established in 1908 as “The Women’s Improvement League,” according to members who have carefully preserved the club history.
Carstens is, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, longest running member of the club, having joined in the 1950s and, after a brief period away, served as president in the early 1990s.
“That was the thing you did way back. I can remember wanting to buy hats to wear to Woman’s Club meetings,” Carstens said. “You felt really good if you were asked to become a member. It was kind of a prestigious moniker.”
The club’s official mission, of doing things for others and making Hopkins a better place, hasn’t changed over the years, according to publicity officer Martha Bates.
“The women have always been doing things to benefit the community,” she said. “It’s one thing after another, whenever they saw something that needed doing.”
The inaugural project of the club was to provide spittoons for benches in the city, since tobacco-chewing men would rarely make use of the cream cans provided for that purpose.
“The ladies rustled their bustles and declared something should be done to beautify the village of Hopkins,” according to a history presented by Ardelle Wenzel Linc at the Club’s 100th anniversary celebration in 2008.
Over the years of the club’s history, the women have contributed to local parks and the Hopkins library, established in 1912 with the donation of more than 800 books collected by Club members.
The club also contributes a $1,000 scholarship every year to a senior girl graduating from Hopkins High School. In some years, the club has collected enough donations to offer two scholarships to help Hopkins girls pursue their dreams.
“The girls are so excited to get the scholarships that they’re hugging us, their families are hugging us, people are taking pictures,” said member Dorothy Pavelka. “It’s a good feeling, you bet.”
Other organizations benefiting from the club’s generosity include ICA Foodshelf, ResourceWest, after school programs and Helping Paws, Bates added.
At its peak, the club boasted nearly 200 members, with a waiting list for potential members and requirement that applicants have the approval and signatures of two active club members.
Originally invitation-only, the club now accepts everyone, young and old, and meetings are open to the public. Still, Bates says, attendance has dwindled over the years, to about 90 members.
“Things are different now. People work and there’s so many other things going on,” said member Joan Setter. “We would love to have younger members, but they’re just so busy.”
In today’s busy world of work, family and extracurriculars, Carstens said most members of the club are retired.
“It’s certainly something different when we see someone come in who doesn’t have gray hair,” Carstens said.
But even retirees have full schedules, Setter added, making time for the club despite increasingly-busy lives full of family, hobbies and other activities.
“When you retire, you wonder what you’ll do with your time. Then you realize, ‘I need more time,’” she said with a laugh.
Recent president Carole Frane said the club hopes to continue to attract retiring members of the community as well as bringing in fresh ideas through younger participants. She also hopes to get current members even more engaged with projects and events.
“We want more members and more involvement from our current members,” she said. “We’re hoping to change that this year.”
Bates encouraged anyone interested to attend the meetings, scheduled the third Tuesday each month, September through April, at Mizpah United Church of Christ (412 5th Ave. N.) in Hopkins and call 952-933-6325 for more information or to make a reservation for lunch.
The ready enthusiasm of the club’s current members is already clear at its crowded monthly meetings, which remain a source of pride, community and service.
“You don’t have to go every month, but people just want to be there. It’s wonderful,” Carstens said.
Most importantly, she added, the club’s members uphold Hopkins’ high standard for welcoming, friendly attitudes and a kindness toward others.
“It’s been a really wonderful club, and they do so much in service. It’s not just a social club,” Carstens said. “And it’s one of the nicest groups of ladies you’ll ever meet. I’m very proud to be a member.”
Contact Gabby Landsverk at [email protected]