Against this backdrop of national economic crises, firsts for women, and other events, a group quietly formed in Wewahitchka: The Idle Hours Club. The first meeting was held in the Pitt Café in April, 1932. A civic and social organization was launched.
During the 30’s the ladies sponsored a city-wide cleanup campaign, including placing garbage cans at every residence and business for containment of refuse. At the time, Wewahitchka had no central location in which organizations could meet. The ladies of the Idle Hours Club saw this deficit and went to work with a number of individuals at the local, county, state, and national levels to obtain funding to build a community house. With a Federal Grant under the WPA, logs donated by Mr. Cleckley, numerous fundraisers, including sales of recipe booklets, bake sales, and a garden tour, as well as the support of the community leaders and citizens, they were successful in contracting for, building, and furnishing a community house. In a dedication ceremony in 1934, the town council president, B.H. Smith, read this statement: “A rising vote of thanks is extended to the ladies of the Idle Hour Club for their full cooperation, their energetic and untiring efforts and assistance to secure for the Town of Wewahitchka, this beautiful edifice, which will stand as a monument to their zeal, loyalty, and perseverance, in bringing about a realization of their dreams of a Town Community House and an ideal place of recreation, for all of which credit is largely due to the inspiring Hand of Woman.
Once the building was constructed, the club sponsored classes in food preparation and conservation and brought in the instructor, Miss Pearl Jordan, from the State. She was hired by the Town Commission as Home Demonstration Agent as a result of these classes. The club also started a small library in the clubhouse, since none existed in Wewahitchka at the time. A club member was the librarian, and was paid by the WPA. Because the times were so difficult, the club sponsored a Health Clinic at the Courthouse, staffed by a nurse, Miss Mathison. The ladies also held a clothing drive for the Welfare Department, and remade clothing for the needy.
As one of its civic efforts, the club worked with the WPA to send photographers to document the Tupelo Honey Industry in Wewahitchka, and the end result is archived in the National Archives. You can see many of those photographs and descriptions of the work done in the industry in many of our public buildings and other buildings throughout the area.
In 1936, the Club was Federated as a part of the National organization, General Federation of Women’s Clubs, and changed its name to GFWC Wewahitchka Woman’s Club.
During the decade of war and upheaval, our club women worked in the Defense Industry, and had little time for their prior efforts. Nonetheless, they carried on a few efforts, including beautification projects, and planted 850 rose bushes around Wewahitchka. They sponsored dramatic plays at the clubhouse, held a toy drive for underprivileged children, raised funds by serving luncheons at the Businessmen’s meetings, planted home and defense gardens, cooked and served Sunday dinners for servicemen stationed in the area. Our club became a member of the Florida Conference of Social Work. We sponsored 4-H club scholarships for short courses for young ladies.
Our club was fully engaged in national events, as well. We wrote to Senator Holland and Senator Pepper to express our endorsement of The Marshall Plan. We wrote a letter to President Truman, urging him to appoint Will Rogers, Jr., as head of Indian Welfare. We received and shared with the community’s women letters of encouragements for the “Women of America” from the Army and Navy Chiefs, from the Secretary of War, in which women were lauded as serving a vital role in the National Defense of our country.
In 1942, a devastating fire burned down the community building and its contents, including the library. Unfortunately, the funding for the WPA had been reduced by this time, to support the War effort. The clubwomen fought hard to reopen the library, and after writing to the State Librarian, Mr. Cash, securing $50 a month from Gulf County, and the intercession skills of Congressman Bob Sikes, the library was reopened Mrs. A. W. Briscoe wrote: “Things were so upset from War Conditions and there was so much Defense work being done, we did well to hold our meetings.”
Locally, the clubwomen pressed forward, and the New Community Center was completed. To keep it open, pay expenses, and raise funds for other worthwhile endeavors, the club placed a Nickelodeon in the Clubhouse, which was very popular after school and on the weekly Friday night dances held there each week. The ladies also sold advertisements for a new telephone directory, catered luncheons for Rotarian meetings, catered REA dinners, and held a Christmas House and Business Decoration Contest – which the Methodist Church won.
Because of the devastation being wrought on our nation by Polio, the club held and Emergency Polio Drive, to help fund the production of the vaccine.
As a part of their ongoing efforts, the women worked to beautify the town, by planting and fertilizing plants and continuing efforts to beautify local parks. Additionally, the women planned, raised funds for, and supervised the landscaping of the REA grounds
This very active club also held school teacher appreciation receptions, supported the WHS Band, provided scholarships for band students to attend music camp, purchased books for the Wewahitchka Public Library, donated to the Orphan Home, bought eyeglasses for an underprivileged child, sponsored the Queen’s Float for Homecoming, and donated to Native American projects.
The 1960’s were a time of turmoil and change in our country.
Undeterred by the world and national turmoil, the ladies of the Wewahitchka Woman’s Club were hard at work. They raised funds for their efforts by holding spaghetti suppers, catering luncheons for the Rotary club, holding a flower show, fall bazaars; fish dinners with the Rotary club, and a fashion show. They established and manned a thrift shop one day a week at the old jewelry store, held a quilt raffle, opened a country store in December, sold aprons, held bake sales, and sold “Florida scene” notepaper.
As a part of their civic service, they held the first Heart Fund Drive in the County, spearheaded by a nurse, Mrs. Irene Britt. At the time, Wewa’s per capita heart disease rate was among the highest in the nation. Ironically, Mrs. Britt had a heart attack in the midst of the project. She recovered, and the project was a resounding success.
The women also continued beautification efforts, including litter cleanup; planting shrubs, trees, flowers in the park in front of the community center; and installing and planting planters on city streets and flower beds in a cooperative effort with 4H clubs.
Perhaps the most significant accomplishment during the 1960’s was the result of a continued vision of the Woman’s Club. From the inception of the club, support of literacy and libraries was at the forefront of their efforts. The Women felt that a dedicated library was needed in both Wewahitchka and Port St. Joe. The fundraising efforts I mentioned were used to purchase and stock a bookmobile, and for the construction of two libraries – one in Wewahitchka, and one in Port St. Joe. In addition to securing funds through a variety of means for the construction, they also held book drives and worked with influential persons at the State level to obtain books. A dedication of both completed libraries was held in 1965. Volunteers from the club staffed the library two days a week and the club continued to hold book drives and donated books and funds to the libraries.
Education has always been an important part of the mission of the Woman’s Club. During the 1960’s, the group sponsored a citizenship program at local schools, brought a specialist from the State College to Wewahitchka for a Summer Music Program (rather than send one or two students to camp); held an art festival, including Wewahitchka Schools; held teas for teachers; and sponsored a Girl’s Service Club at WHS.
During this decade more scholarships than usual were awarded by the club. They included four scholarships for WHS band to attend the Gatorland Band Festival at the University of Florida and a scholarship for an underprivileged senior at WHS to attend Gulf Coast Junior College for a year.
The busy ladies, concerned about health in the area, brought in a mobile x-ray van for TB screening. They also assisted in the Polio Vaccine Program, holding ‘Polio Sugar Lump Sundays’ at local churches.
Other projects by the women include: Donating dolls to Sunland Training Center in Marianna for Christmas; donated food baskets to needy families; staffed a 24-hour telethon for Cerebral Palsy Clinic; provided a reception at the dedication of the Wewahitchka Post Office; provided and delivered Christmas gifts for shut-ins and elderly individuals for Christmas; donated to the March of Dimes, Cancer Society; donated to the Flag Foundation; held a Fireman’s Banquet; provided a reception at the dedication of the Wewahitchka Post Office; and donated to the flag foundation, to crusade for freedom, to Radio Free Europe, to the Children’s Home Society, and provided aid to underprivileged individuals for medications.
So, although the nation was in turmoil during this decade, and that turmoil surely had an effect on the women in the Women’s club, they were not deterred. The carried on. They made a difference. Their legacy lives on today, in our libraries and in our community.
The United States Celebrated its Bicentennial in 1976, and cities and towns around the nation observed the milestone in a year-long history study, with fairs, fireworks, parades, and speeches.
What would the ladies do in this period of political drama, environmental crises, and economic recession? They focused on the good in the world and their community – and they brought celebration and hope to our town. They raised funding by holding a Christmas Decoration Home Contest, a Teachers Luncheon Fundraiser, sold “In the Beginning” records, sold “Portrait of Liberty” plates at their fashion show fundraiser, sold cookbooks, commissioned and sold the first Wewahitchka Commemorative Plate, held bake sales and had a country store fundraiser during the holidays. With the funds they raised, they prepared and sponsored, along with other organizations and city and county governments, a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Gulf County, the 100th anniversary of Wewahitchka, and the US Bicentennial Celebration. They continued their support of the Public Libraries and of the WES and WHS libraries. They carpeted the Special Education Classroom at WES, and held monthly birthday parties for special education students at WES. They continued supporting local High School Seniors with scholarships, sponsored students for the Washington Tour, and supported the Hacienda Girls Ranch.
The Wewahitchka Woman’s Club was hard at work. They raised funds for their efforts by updating and selling their cookbook, holding bazaars, holding a Bike-a-Thon for St. Jude Children’s Hospital, holding a Fall Festival, Arts festivals, bake sales, selling commemorative figurines, holding Antique and Junktique sales, hosting Book Sales for the Gulf County Libraries, and holding yard sales.
They continued their support of the Special Education Classroom by holding monthly birthday parties and sponsoring special ed students for the State Special Olympics; supporting all local libraries, including the public libraries and the school libraries, with cash donations, magazines, and books; holding a Tea for the Friends of the Libraries; sponsoring Christmas Parades; purchasing new bulbs for the City’s
Christmas Decorations; and purchasing newspaper subscriptions for senior citizens.
They spearheaded a community clean-up campaign, with the cooperation of the Sheriff and involving school children in a poster contest; planted dogwoods and shrubs at the Medical Clinic and Dental Clinic; donated landscaping for the Wewahitchka Post Office; continued to landscape and care for the Triangle; bought 1000 Dogwood Trees and gave each elementary student a tree to plant; bought 22 flags to replace worn flags at WES; planted azaleas around the Little League Ball Park; planted shrubs and trees on Arbor Day at the Telephone Office; and purchased Welcome signs for the City Limits, on Highway 22 and Highway 71. They planted and weeded flowers around municipal buildings and the senior center with the girl scouts.
The Women awarded scholarships, including one for Minnie Kemp to complete the Practical Nursing Program at Haney; a scholarship for both a Senior and a former club member to attend Gulf Coast Community College; scholarships for the Washington Youth Tour; and collected soup labels for education.
They assisted with Blood drives and cancer drives; encouraged immunization through a variety of programs they sponsored in the community; and financially sponsored a Lice Eradication Project for WES.
They also held a 50th anniversary celebration of the Wewahitchka Woman’s Club; donated to the Hacienda Girls Ranch; and donated to the Panhandle Alcoholism Council. As you can see, the 80’s, like the decades before, were not just about “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” – they had fun and accomplished a lot for the community.
The ladies raised funds for a number of worthwhile causes. They held bazaars; sold spaghetti suppers; sold cookbooks; sponsored an Earth Day Celebration as a special fundraiser for the Dead Lakes State Recreation area; held a Christmas Tour of Homes; held a “school daze” shower for the Hacienda Girls’ Ranch; held a bakeless bake sale as a special fundraiser for Canine Companions for Independence; sold baked goods, commemorative plates, and cookbooks at the Tupelo Festival to raise funds for the Dead Lakes Recreation Area fencing project; and sold advertising space in coloring and activity books that they published for Gulf County Schools.
Their projects included: Thanksgiving Baskets for needy families; a Thanksgiving Party for Senior Citizens at the Senior Center; a Christmas Party for Head Start children; helped sponsor the Christmas Parade; worked with WES and the city to let the Children decorate the Community Christmas Tree; held Easter Parties and held Spaghetti Dinners for the Senior Citizens.
In continuation of the signature project of the Club, they made financial and book donations to the Wewahitchka Public Library and the school libraries. In a new effort, the women established two more libraries: one at the Gulf Correctional Institution and one at the Work Camp – they purchased and donated over 800 magazines and nearly 400 books for these purposes. They also held Summer Reading Classes at the Wewahitchka Public Library, 1 day a week for 6 weeks, for children aged 6-10.
As a part of their conservation and stewardship efforts, they purchased and installed shrubs for the Lake Alice Walkway; Established, with the City, a Recycling Program; With funds raised in the Earth Day Festival they held, they Rebuilt the Large Pavilion at Dead Lakes that was destroyed by Hurricane Kate in 1985. In addition, they purchased and installed a fountain in the Triangle, and placed a ceremonial plaque for GFWC in the Triangle. The club held another Dead Lakes Earth Day Celebration, and was able to purchase two flagpoles – one for the US Flag, and one for the Florida flag, the first since the area was established as a State Recreation area in 1974.
Education efforts included a “Don’t Clown Around with Drugs” Poster Contest at WES; Scholarships for WHS Students; Contributions to the DuPont Scholarship; Students for the REA Washington Youth Tour; the Keep Kids Safe Program; The First Project Graduation with WHS; Sponsoring Special Education Students for the Florida Special Olympics; collected Caps and Labels for Education; Monthly Birthday Parties for ESE Students; Sponsored the WHS Drama Club; and held an Environmental Poster Contest at WES.
The 2000’s were years of national tragedy in the United States. With so much turmoil and shock occurring in the Nation, our club focused its attention on its signature efforts. Fundraisers included cookbook sales, bake sales, and dinners. Those efforts enabled us to continue our club scholarship programs for WHS Students and the Hugh O’Brien scholarship; our support of the Libraries (Public Libraries and Schools); Community Beautification; the Hacienda Girl’s Ranch; Hope Lodge; and the Ronald McDonald House.
Women of the Woman’s Club continued their efforts. We raised funds by holding bake sales, pulled pork bbq sales, sales at the Tupelo Honey Festival; new commemorative plate sales; and cookbook sales. Our signature projects continue: Support for our Public and school libraries; scholarships for WHS Students; Community Beautification at the Triangle, including the installation of Flagpole and flags; Flags on Highway 71; Coats for Kids in all County Elementary and High Schools, as a cooperative project with Gulf Correctional Institution; Breast Cancer Awareness and Domestic Violence Awareness; Teacher Appreciation Projects; and this year, a new project: the Blue Ribbon Project, recognizing the role and appreciation for Law Enforcement Agents in our area – because of the unrest in the nation between law enforcement and citizens, we felt strongly that we needed to let our law enforcement agents know that we appreciated their efforts in keeping our community safe, so we tied blue ribbons around the trees and power poles on Highway 71, and took baskets of goodies to our Sheriff’s Office and the Port Saint Joe Police Department.
We also have continued with a number of Teacher Appreciation Projects; with our sponsorship of Hacienda Girls’ Ranch, Hope Lodge, Ronald McDonald House, Hugh O’Brien Scholarship, and Canine Companions for Independence.
Our Woman’s Club will be active over the next few years, working on behalf of the community.
After the first of the year, we will hold a series of community forums with community leaders and citizens, in a town hall format, to hear from the community about where they would like our efforts to be focused for the next few years, such as health, homelessness, hunger, drugs, senior citizens, etc.
We will continue our support of our Libraries, through our joint participation in the “Dancing For Books” project, which raised 10,000 for our local libraries last year, and that we expect to have a similar effect this year. We would love for you to join us on February 4 at Constitution Hall in Port Saint Joe for the Dance. There will be a full dinner, silent and live auction, live music, and, of course, dancing.
Our scholarships will continue for WHS Students, as will our community beautification efforts, our Blue Ribbon Projects, Coats for Kids, Teacher Appreciation, as well as our sponsorship efforts for the Hacienda Girls’ Ranch, Hope Lodge, and Ronald McDonald House, the Hugh O’Brien Scholarships, and Canine Companions for Independence.
Finally, we will be holding, next year, what we hope will be an annual event, a “Swamp Purlieu Cook-off,” at Lake Alice Park. So get your recipes ready, and come out and support it this coming Spring. We will also continue our Pulled Pork BBQ dinners, and our plate sales; and community Bunco Tournaments.