In 1913, Woodrow Wilson was president of the United States, the Lincoln Highway was built across the country and Charlie Chaplin started his movie career. In Newton, two area women’s social clubs, The Embroidery Club and N.G.T. (Newton Good Time), merged to form a new club called Chat-A-Bit.
On Thursday, Sept. 5, 17 women united at Park Centre to celebrate the group’s 100th anniversary.
Together, they sat around a table, ate a catered lunch and visited with each other. They reminisced about past meetings and members, and a few hours later, they were served chocolate cake for dessert.
“We share stories of our family, and we also bring articles to share with each other from the newspaper or Internet,” secretary and treasurer Norinne Hardenbrook said.
“There are always wonderful, little humorous things to read and share,” president Ruth Ross said. “They’re usually about funny things that go on when you get old.”
The 100-year-old club meets bi-monthly between October and May. Each meeting is assigned to a hostess who decides where the group will go for lunch. Following the lunch, the women go over to the hostess’ home for refreshments and further socializing.
“Some might think that we’re too dignified or too ancient to let loose or have a good time. In fact, we laugh a lot,” Norinne said. “I wasn’t aware of how loudly we laughed until the day we were at Effie’s (Wearmouth).
“Now, Effie had one of those clappers — one of those lights you clap on, clap off — and I don’t remember who was sitting nearest that light that day, but every time we laughed, the light would go on. We’d laugh again and that light would go off, and that happened all afternoon. It’s a wonder we didn’t wear that thing out.”
As secretary, Norinne shared the history of the club at the anniversary meeting as a chance for the women to reminisce and share memories. The club also has a scrapbook that consists of newspaper clippings, every year’s club yearbook and club minutes.
“You can’t read these minutes and not miss those who are no longer with us, really, truly,” she said. “You feel great loss when one passes on. We don’t dwell on it, but we certainly remember.”
One of the women they remembered was Wilma Agar, who was referred to as Mrs. Christmas because if she hosted a meeting between November and January, her house was filled with fine decorations and twinkle lights.
“I hadn’t known Wilma before joining the Chat-A-Bit club, and I just came to love her for her admirable spirit and her good sense of fun. I am grateful for having the chance to know her and other people I’ve become better acquainted with through Chat-A-Bit,” Norinne said.
Each September, the women meet and start off a new year together, going on their annual trip to a nearby town like Marshalltown, Grinnell or Ames. Last September, the women traveled to Pella, where they ate at a teahouse and took a tour of the Vermeer Company.
“It’s always been fun to go on our September trips. We’ve never went very far, but it was always a good time,” club member Judy Snook said.
According to the club bylaws, there are no more than 16 active members in the club at once. The members must be Methodist, female and must be asked to join by invitation. Although the women are of Methodist religion, they affirm the club is separate from the church.
The club has 16 meetings per year, along with the annual September trip. Each woman hosts one meeting a year.
“I like the group because the women are very supportive of each other, especially during a hard time like in bad health,” Ruth said. “We share so much. It’s just about good people and good company.”
Including the 12 original members, there have been a total of 98 members throughout the 100-year history. Over the years, there have been a few groups of mother-daughter members and sisters too.
Ann Bovenkamp is a second-generation club member. Her mother, Elizabeth Osborn, was a member prior to that.
“I have to say that I used to tease my mom about belonging to Chat-A-Bit, being a group of old ladies, but now here I am. I’ve learned that everyone was so kind and accepting. It’s been a real nice experience,” Anne said.
Over the years, the women have donated money to local charities and organizations like hospice, Aces Teen Club, Salvation Army and the Jasper County Courthouse Lighting Committee. They also give to the Salvation Army Food Bank each year.
“It’s just a nice time to get together, and today I was just kind of excited,” Judy said at the meeting. “I’ve probably seen you all this summer but, you know, we haven’t had time to visit.”
Current club officers are president Ruth Ross, vice president Dee Ely and secretary/treasurer Norinne Hardenbrook.