The tables at China Beach are set with fine linen and china; little wizard-capped desserts and other tea fancies are on trays in the kitchen; and the grey midday skies of Ilwaco are about to turn sunny — the women of the Mentor Club are celebrating their 90th year together.
The longevity of any entity in its ninth decade is certainly grounds for a celebration, and the Mentor Club, which formed on April 24, 1929, is no exception. Charter members are Mmes. Margaret Vernon Brumbach, Vivian Curtis Hoare, Carlotta Arthur Honeyman, Katherine Stanley Lochrie, Nell John McGowan, Clara Frank Turner, Eliza Lewis Williams, Berntza D. Walter Williams, Julie John Williams, and Marge Reese Williams. Current and previous members (pictured) have been planning this special coming together for months, and I was lucky enough to be invited.
Current president Barbara Norcross Renner and newest member Ann Gaddy called me over for coffee one morning last month to prepare me for the event: I have to admit their orientation was much appreciated. The ins and outs of the club seem, well, so last century; but, by golly, the structure that the founding members established — the pledge, the bylaws, the group’s constitution, the sequence of the meeting agenda — have been meticulously followed all these years; and, one has to say, they’ve worked!
The club has gathered twice a month every month (except perhaps less rigorously in the summer) for 90 years, and they have continued to do good work in the community and internationally over the long course of their existence.
One of the rules is that no current politics are discussed, which meant that even after the atrocity of the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, 1941, there was no direct conversation about it; though the club did deviate slightly from tradition by beginning the meeting with the Lord’s Prayer.
Other features of the regular meetings include an elaborate luncheon, prepared by the hostess (with helpers of her choosing). There is also a “presenter” who prepares and delivers an essay on a topical theme that has been pre-selected by the membership.
The topic for the founding year was “Ancient Egypt;” whereas during the war years the focus was on Europe — the Italian Renaissance, Spain, Renaissance in France, and Germany. Mayans and Aztecs, the Inca Empire, and South America were featured during the late ‘50s. Greek and Roman culture was the umbrella topic in the late ‘60s. Then a return home in the ‘70s brought the group to explore Chinook Indians, and the American Bicentennial. Women were featured for two years in ‘89 and ‘90. Of course, the Lewis and Clark Expedition was topical for 2005-06; Islam in 2013-14; founding fathers and mothers was on the docket for 2017-18, followed by “Beyond Independence,” this year’s topic.
This listing explains something that had puzzled me at first, “Who exactly is the club mentoring?” Then it became clear that the club was formed to allow the women to “mentor” each other. It seems to me the formation of the club was a rather brilliant way for wives and mothers living in a very remote region to keep themselves interested and stimulated by history, culture, and matters of the mind. I should point out that these presentations are serious business — each presenter chooses a topic that fits under the umbrella theme for that year, then proceeds to research the topic before pulling it all together into a 30-minute presentation.
After the presentation, all members — there are always and only sixteen in the group, new inductees are invited when needed — participate in what is labeled “roll call,” in which each woman has three minutes to bring up a topic or concern of her choice. (Over the years, some members have moved away or have withdrawn because of time constraints and, therefore, become “ex-officio” or honorary members.)
International and local giving
Another aspect of the club has been its continued devotion to the organization PLAN International (https://plan-international.org/organisation/history). PLAN, a children’s charity, has been in existence for 80 years itself and was established early on as a Mentor Club recipient of giving. Over the years, mentors have sponsored individual children selected and screened by PLAN. The child often sends notes to the club or charming drawings of life in his or her village in Africa.
Kathy Aase is the current archivist for the club. Every set of minutes from the beginning; all communication with PLAN children, including letters (translated into English) and drawings; photographs of club members; and notes on the gatherings over the years are all neatly bound and cherished as part of the club’s historical record.
As well as the donations for the children sponsored by the club, members also vote on a local Peninsula organization to be included in their giving. This year’s Christmas donation went to Camp Victory (https://campvictoryforchildren.org/girlscamp.html), an organization that provides a free camp experience for local girls and boys (five-18 years old) who have survived domestic or sexual abuse.
Tea and the ‘Collect’
Members take pride in hostessing the twice-monthly gatherings. The menu for April’s 90th year celebration was a fantastic array of mouth-watering fare: smoked salmon and caviar on sourdough blinis; tomato-crab sandwiches on Pan de Mie; spinach-feta pastry swirls; British style currant scones with lemon curd and clotted cream; pistachio cream puffs; raspberry Bakewell tarts; Mont Blanc cake squares — all and everything lovingly hand-made (by Laurie Anderson and her crew) and beautifully presented and served.
But you’d be wrong if you think this signifies an over-the-top excess of hauteur. True, the formality of the mentor club represents vestiges of another era, but after witnessing the congenial rigueurs, the generosity and kindness, the authentic affection of all members and their dedication to the club, to its purpose, and to each other, I understand that these traditions are why the club has lasted all these years.
The values of the Mentor Club have kept it vital and have provided its members a place to be together in ways that reinforce all that is best about being human. At the beginning of each and every meeting, the women recite a pledge called the “Collect for Club Women,” penned by Mary Stewart in 1904, while she was principal of Longmont High School in Colorado. As Stewart noted, “It was written as a prayer for the day because I felt that women working together with wide interests for large ends was a new thing under the sun and that, perhaps they had need for special petition and meditation of their own. (https://tinyurl.com/y4q9kyto).
I quote just the end of the Collect: “Teach us to put into action our better impulses,
straightforward and unafraid. Grant that we may realize it is the little things that create differences, that in the big things of life we are at one. And may we strive to touch and to know the great, common human heart of us all. And, O Lord God, let us forget not to be kind!”
The members of the Mentor Club have forgotten nothing in putting this prayer on its feet and “into action.” May they continue for another 90 years!