Woman’s Club leaves its mark on Oak Ridge

By Donna Smith and Sarah Craven Posted Jun 15, 2018 at 5:47 PM (www.oakridger.com)

After 74 years, the Oak Ridge Woman’s Club is no more.

But the efforts made by its many members over the decades will live on in Oak Ridge.

“Those accomplishments speak for themselves,” Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch said during a dedication ceremony Wednesday morning at the Secret City Commemorative Walk near the Oak Ridge Public Library. Nearby a new monument with a plaque now stands, engraved with a short history of the Woman’s Club and the names of all of the women who have served as president.

The mayor echoed the club’s purpose: to stimulate, awaken and promote the educational, literary and civic betterment of Oak Ridge.

Jon Hetrick, the city Recreation and Parks Department director, was given a check from the Woman’s Club. The club paid for the monument and plaque and is now providing money for the upkeep of the park area where the Walk is located. It had already donated the bench, as well as the tree — one of several over the years — that is transformed each year into the city Christmas tree.

“Generosity has been a hallmark of the Woman’s Club,” Hetrick said.

Passing traffic muffled the words of club members who spoke at the ceremony — the final President Virginia Brock, Betty Eason, first vice president and chairwoman for the dedication ceremony. Past president Sarah Craven talked about how she’d miss the women of the club.

But the women — many who are senior citizens — have decided to disband. A farewell tea was held on May 16. The Woman’s Club has been behind the city Christmas tree lighting and reception that follows every year since 1986. They said some of the women will continue that work.

The Oak Ridge Woman’s Club is one of the oldest — and was one of the largest — organizations in the city. As the Club’s history explains, there were no outside activities or organizations for stay-at-home moms and wives to participate in within the government-run Secret City in 1943 so “Col. Stafford” asked his wife to plan a tea to organize a Woman’s Club.

With no mail delivery in the area that would become Oak Ridge, notices were left on the doors of homes stating that a group of ladies would meet in the Central Recreation Hall to see if there was enough interest to form a Woman’s Club. A committee was nominated to draw up a club constitution and bylaws for presentation with a slate of officers.

Membership efforts began with the official birth of the club on April 16, 1944 and by October 1945 — there were 700 members.

And the Oak Ridge Woman’s Club has been going strong ever since. Club members were the official greeters for the gate opening event in 1949 with two special visitors: actress Marie “The Body” McDonald and actor Rod Cameron.

The club hosted a reception for Oak Ridge’s 50th Anniversary, a reception for Mayor Alvin K. Bissell’s 80th Birthday, and hosted the Open House at the Alexander Inn, which was a kick- off for the Homecoming ’86 Weekend Celebration to mark the club’s 50th birthday.

They hosted a reception for the city’s 50th birthday party in the lobby of the Oak Ridge Playhouse, which included a cake that served 500 people.

The club members have participated in most civic activities of the city and supported the Oak Ridge High School building fund, the Children’s Museum, the Holiday Bureau, the University of Tennessee Arboretum, the Daniel Arthur Rehabilitation Center, the high school’s ShowCats, the YWCA building fund, and Aid to Distressed Families of Appalachian Counties (ADFAC), just to name a few. For the Oak Ridge Civic Center, the Club purchased the center’s sign, a kitchen unit, and some Bradford pear trees.

The offered “sections” of the club for members based upon interests — arts and crafts, bowling, bridge, needle craft, books, exercise, and swimming.

They held a meeting each month, whether it was a trip or a luncheon with a speaker, fashion show or musical program. Speakers have included “Body Farm” founder Bill Bass and the late Minnie Pearl.

In April 2014, the club celebrated its 70th birthday with a reception at the DoubleTree Hotel, in which the president and past presidents were honored. One of the club members said 13 past presidents of the club are still living.

Each member received a special gift on that 70th birthday in remembrance of the special occasion and the friendships that have developed over the years.

Friendships that continue or are still remembered to this day.

Sarah Craven is a former president and longtime member of the Oak Ridge Woman’s Club. Donna Smith is The Oak Ridger’s news editor. Contact her at dsmith@oakridger.com or follow her on Twitter @ridgernewsed.