BY JOEY REISTROFFER
SPARTANBURG — Kathy Michels is hunting for history. So the president of St. Paul’s Women’s Club put on a tea party for past leaders of the Catholic circle in hopes of jogging a few memories.
Michels said she contacted 22 former club presidents, and about a dozen showed up for the social bash held in the lobby of the Summit Hills assisted living facility. Some came bearing tales from the ’50s and ’60s. Others remembered events from the ’70s and ’80s. The ’90s, however, aren’t quite history yet, and very few of them could recall the ’40s.
Anne Marable, president in 1994-95, said she moved to the Upstate in 1967 and became very active with the church in 1976, the year her husband died. The Women’s Club gave her precious support during those hard times, she said. “If I needed somebody, there’s a lot of women who are right here. We’re all sisters.”
It was definitely a sisterhood, according to Bernadette Fleck, president in 1968. “We were fun,” she said. “It was like women’s night out.
“We were all young mothers, and our husbands said, ‘Go. Do something outside the house,'” Fleck said.
So they did, and the Women’s Club provided just the right tonic for those get-out-of-the-house blues.
“We were kind of a party group,” added Barbara Lanthier Colvin, president from 1989-91.
Flock said many of the ladies in the club came to Spartanburg in the mid-’60s, lured by industry, and bonded for social support because “we didn’t have family here.”
“We’re all from someplace else,” she said.
Penny Clements arrived in 1952 and said she became active in the club right away. “That was the only organization around,” she added.
Clements held the top spot twice. Once in the ’60s and again from 1973-75. Then she became president of the S.C. Council from 1976-78.
Clements said the roles of women have changed from those early years. Back then, stay-at-home mothers participated in the Women’s Club to get away from the family for a few hours. Now, she said, most mothers work, and they want to spend their free time at home with their families.
The club, she said, has had to evolve to cater to these different needs. As it stands now, the group is small — only about 30 members. They, however, are a dedicated bunch. They get involved.
Many of the past presidents remembered the annual Thanksgiving clothing drive as a big event of years gone by. Others recalled making aroma candles.
Now they help with the parish picnic and the St. Patrick’s Day dance. On March 6, they are holding a retreat and bringing in Father Paul Williams as the keynote speaker. In addition to that, they have a blood drive on tap for April 11; on April 16 they will sponsor a card party with funds going to the Citizens for Life and are organizing a rummage sale for April 24.
“There’s more things going on in the church,” Clements said.
Because opportunities are greater for women today, “they bring more to the Women’s Club,” she added.
Michels, however, is trying to find the group’s roots. She said she knows that St. Paul’s has been around for 115 years, and one of the earliest mentions of the Women’s Club dates back to the 1940s, when they participated in the USO during World War II.
Michels also discovered that from Oct. 4-6, 1941, the South Carolina Council of Catholic Women met in Spartanburg. She said the program for that weekend included a solemn pontifical Mass at Camp Croft celebrated by the Most Rev. Amleto Giovanni Cicognani, the apostolic delegate from the Vatican to the United States. A crowd of 10,000 attended that Mass, according to a historical document that one of the ladies showed Michels at the tea party.
That was six decades ago, and the Women’s Club still is going strong.