The GFWC-MFWC Civic Woman’s Club celebrates 50th

Published 3:18 am Sunday, February 1, 2009

“I’m just sitting here wondering how those 50 years went by so fast,” said Jane Anne Handley, one of the two remaining charter members of the GFWC-MFWC Civic Woman’s Club of Picayune, CWC, which is now celebrating its 50th anniversary — and 50 years of community service.

The club will host a reception from 2-4 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 7 at the Senior Center in Picayune. The public is invited to share in this joyous occasion with the group. Attendees will receive an informational booklet on the club, filled with stories of the years served by past presidents.

Two such past presidents, Handley and Audeline “Audie” Smith, the other charter member and four time club past president, reflected on their years in the club and how it all started.

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In the beginning, the club was an off-shoot of the Picayune Woman’s Club, which was mostly made up of senior adults. President of the Woman’s Club at that time, Jessie Stewart, founder of the CWC of Picayune, gathered up approximately 4 or 5 young ladies in their 20s and asked them if they wanted to form a Junior Woman’s Club to foster its own programs and assist the Woman’s Club. Both Handley and Smith were part of that initial meeting, and while admittedly they had no idea of what they were agreeing to at the time, they both jumped at this opportunity.

When Stewart said “program” the young women thought she meant a singing program or worship type program, said Smith, who continued that Stewart was really referring to heart fund drives and similar projects.

“She made it sound so good, and her spice tea was so good, we just kept going back for more, and to drink more tea,” Smith laughed.

So it was in January of 1959 that approximately 20 members joined together and became the organization that we know today as the Civic Woman’s Club of Picayune. It was February that same year, that the club gained all of its initials and became federated, making it the GFWC (national federation) – MFWC (state federation) CWC (local) of Picayune.

The first officers were elected and installed, February 1959. “I remember I did the installation of officers and ‘Hearts That Beat As One’ was the title of our installation,” said Smith. “Then we canvassed the entire city of Picayune for the heart fund.”

“That was our very first major project and it was a big one, we went door to door,” said Handley. “We did well, and for several years our major project in February was the heart fund.” Incidentally, a similar heart fund project is the club’s state project for this current year and so it would seem the fledgling CWC was on the right foot from the very beginning.

As the women continued to reminisce about the CWC, several other past projects came to mind, such as the Kiddie Matinee Movies, Chicken Fries fundraisers and Fall Carnival. They also remembered bringing in the New Orleans Symphony to speak to children in the elementary schools and to play two concerts, one for the children and one for adults.

Handley said, despite the hard work behind some of the activities and fundraisers the projects were worth it because working together brought a feeling of unity to the members.

Today, Smith said, the club is divided into six departments, so its members can pick and choose the projects with which they would like to be involved. The six departments are conservation, arts, education, home life, public affairs and international affairs. “Every lady can find something that would interest them,” she said.

Projects that the entire club does work on together each year are the big Christmas-time programs sponsored by CWC: The Christmas parade and the Christmas Pilgrimage. As two of the area’s most popular events, they serve to help the club raise money for the scholarships they present to one student at Picayune and one student at Pearl River Central each year.

When asked why they’ve chosen to remain active and involved in the organization all these years, both Handley and Smith agreed that they just liked the work they did and it helped give them an added sense of accomplishment. Both mothers, the club served as a way for them to help out their community and watch it thrive for future generations.

“We’ve always wanted to know what we can do to make our community a better place,” said Handley. “In fact, our motto is ‘Service in your community is the price you pay for the space you occupy’ and we have really tried to live up to that.”

To learn more about the GFWC-MFWC Civic Woman’s Club of Picayune, mark your calendar for 2-4 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 7, and join them at the Senior Center for an anniversary reception honoring their 50 years of service to Picayune.