Homemakers clubs have changed over the years, but the emphasis on ‘home’ has remained

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Submitted photos

Above: Past and present homemakers club members gathered at the Hill and Dale Club’s 75th anniversary picnic held Juy 8. Kenny Slagsvold entertained the group with music and members and guests enjoyed a potluck supper.

Right: Members of local home makers clubs gathered for Achievement Day in 1986. Home maker scrapbook can be found at the Frontier Gateway Museum

For many years, any wife of a Dawson County rancher or farmer was also a member of the local homemakers club.

The homemakers clubs brought neighbors together for good fellowship, to learn new skills and to serve their communities, Sherry Corneliusen, a long-time member of the Hill and Dale Homemakers Club noted. The Hill and Dale and the Buffalo Rapids homemakers clubs celebrated their 75th anniversary July 8, exactly 75 years to the day of when the club organized.

Four years later, the club had added so many members that they decided to split into two clubs with Clear Creek as the dividing line. The clubs were known as Buffalo Rapids #1 and Buffalo Rapids #2. In 1949, Buffalo Rapids #1 became the Upper Buffalo Rapids Club and in 1955 changed its name to the Hill and Dale Homemakers Club.

Membership in the clubs was often generational, Corneliusen said, noting that her grandmother and mother are both members of the club. Other multi-generation member families include the Buxbaums, Trangmoes, Lassles, Gibbs, Haas and Geigers.

Rita Reynolds wrote in a booklet compiled by Carol Popp and Marlene Peterson in 1993 for the 50th anniversary of the Buffalo Rapids club that when she came to Montana in 1957 as a new bride she had never heard of the Homemakers organization. The Extension Homemaker Agent invited her to join a club where her husband’s aunt was a member.

“I joined to become acquainted with my neighbors and to socialize,” she wrote.

In 1955 Dawson County had 20 homemaker clubs with a membership of 325. By 2004, that number had dropped to five and today there are three active clubs. In the early years, all clubs met together twice a year in the spring and fall. Individual clubs met more frequently. Club dues in early years were 10 cents to the county, 10 cents to the state and five cents for program booklets.

A Buffalo Rapids scrapbook notes that in early years when times were hard, members learned to make things with whey and how to can and eat thistles. Over the years the focus of the programs and lessons changed to address new issues members were facing.

While the homemakers clubs started out as organizations for rural women, in 1966 Geralyn Beverly broke that barrier to become the first “townie” member.

“Through the years, more town women found the need to join a group that provided companionship and learning new ways to help in raising their children, new ideas in food preparation, decorating the home, the world around, plus crafts for the creative,” Marlene Peterson wrote in the 50th anniversary booklet.

As times changed and women went to work outside the home to help supplement the family income, meeting times changed from afternoons to evenings but the emphasis on home was still number one on the agenda.

“Homemakers clubs provided the road for all,” Peterson wrote. Friendships were cultivated and kept through the years.”

The skills learned at club were practical and, in at least one case, life-saving. Carol Popp recalled a meeting in the late 1970s when the Glendive Fire Department gave a demonstration on CPR. Shortly after that meeting, a flash flood filled the Popps’ pond with run off and their two year old daughter decided to play in it.

“She was found lying face down in the muddy water and with the first aid I had learned at Homemakers, we were able to save her life,” Popp wrote.

Club meetings usually started with a roll call where members needed to respond to a question or idea, Peterson noted. Examples from the 50s and 60s include: how to keep warm, my first knowledge of sex, my concept of communism, prizes won at the fair, famous saying of presidents, a movie seen, cold drink recipes and posture faults while in the 80s and 90s roll calls asked for a favorite Christmas memory, a cookie exchange recipe, household hints and the meaning of members’ surnames.

Programs and lessons included learning about color, citizenship, communism, frozen foods, safe driving, new fabrics, child behavior, merchandizing, skin care, cosmetics, civil defense, public speaking hair styling, Montana history, women’s disease, cancer detection, flower arranging, cake decorating, hug therapy, and pattern making.

The Hill and Dale Club did service projects at the Dawson County Cemetery, campaigning to get irrigation water to it, painting the office building and planting flowers. One year they planted 1,500 petunias in the cemetery, Corneliusen said.

Both clubs made lap robes for nursing home residents. The Buffalo Rapids Club also chose a resident and honored her on her birthday. Members made knit caps for preemies at the hospital and set up a children’s mitten and cap Christmas tree. The homemakers clubs were also instrumental in starting hot lunch programs in the schools.

Husbands are included by both clubs for their February meeting when they have their annual sweetheart dinner and families were always invited to a summer picnic.

While the clubs do not meet as often now as they did in earlier years and don’t have as heavy an emphasis on programs and projects, their primary objectives of fellowship, learning and service haven’t changed.

“We care for each other by helping with the many faces of life, special sisters, anniversaries and funerals. We are supportive of each other in our life changes from brides, to mothers and then becoming grandmothers. We are the best of all…good friends,” Peterson said.

Reach Cindy Mullet at crmullet@midrivers.com

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