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Homemakers - yesterday and today

May 13, 1999

Nellie StriteBy MEG H. PARTINGTON / Staff Writer

photos: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




Dressy hats and gloves don't have to be worn to meetings anymore and members aren't charged fines for being absent, but the values that were at the core of homemaker clubs decades ago still are in place.

"They saw early on that there needed to be some change for the resiliency of the family," says Doug Hovatter, a West Virginia University extension agent in Martinsburg, W.Va.

[cont. from lifestyle]

The organizations have helped maintain heritage, tradition and the sense of community since forming in the early 1900s, Hovatter says. Some helped establish what is now 4-H and United Way, and their members volunteer their time to aid the sick and dying and to boost children's self-esteem and grades.

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"They're like a sleeping giant," Hovatter says.

'A learning experience'

June HauptMembers learn about the environment, family life and heritage, financial management, food and nutrition, safety and emergency preparedness, says Helen Arnold, president of Washington County Homemakers Council.

"It's a learning experience. It helps them to cope with the problems in their lives," says Arnold, 79.

Having only an eighth-grade education, Louise Schnebly, 88, says she learned some valuable skills from other homemakers, including public speaking, cooking and crafting.

Lessons on slow-cooking meals came in handy when Nellie Strite, 84, was working long days on the farm.

Members reach out to the community and beyond by raising money for college scholarships, leading tours of area historical structures and sending care packages to war refugees and needy children.

"I learned so much from everybody. No matter what I do for homemakers, it won't be too much," says Schnebly, who lives outside of Clear Spring and belongs to Dry Run Homemakers Club.

"You will make friendships you'll never, ever forget," says Strite, of Clear Spring, also a member of Dry Run Homemakers Club.

Changing faces

Bernie ByersHovatter says the name used by West Virginia clubs - Continuing Educational Outreach Service organizations - better reflects their mission and is more welcoming to men, who have been associate members since the 1980s in West Virginia but now hold memberships in some area clubs.

Bernie Byers, 83, of Martinsburg, has belonged to VanClevesville Continuing Educational Outreach Service in Berkeley County for three years.

His wife, Sarah, was a member for almost 50 years. Through her, he got to know the other members and their spouses by attending dinners, which he says always featured good food. When his wife died, Byers says the club was looking for new members. Since he knew everyone already, he decided to join.

"If I could be a little service to them, I'd be glad to do it," Byers says.

One of the main projects of the group, which has two other male members, has been to maintain the VanClevesville chapel, which was deeded over to the people who live next door so it could be retained as a historical building.

Hovatter says there are 13 organizations in Berkeley County with a total of 250 members. In Franklin County, Pa., there are 250 women in 10 homemaker groups, says Mary Ann Oyler, family and consumer sciences agent with Penn State Cooperative Extension in Franklin County.

Working women

Years ago, there were 22 clubs in Washington County, Arnold says.

Now there are nine clubs with a total of 128 members, most of whom are retirees or work for their husbands, so they can get time off for club activities.

Club memberships declined as women joined the work force, Schnebly says.

"We'd be delighted to have working women," says Arnold, a member of Green Acres Homemakers Club in Hagerstown.

Wallis Anne Magaha, 53, says many of the club members in Jefferson County, W.Va., have jobs. Some groups meet at night to accommodate the working women, while some members have flexible schedules and are able to attend daytime gatherings.

The club Magaha has belonged to for more than 30 years - Summit Point Continuing Educational Outreach Service - has four new members younger than 40, some of whom have young children.

"We're lucky that we have some younger members," says Magaha, also co-president of Jefferson County Continuing Educational Outreach Service Council.

There are 170 people involved in the 10 clubs in Jefferson County, says Judy Matlick, a West Virginia University extension agent in Bardane, W.Va.

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