In the 50 years since a small group of women met for the first time at Bluegrass Country Club with the goal of bettering their community, the GFWC Woman’s Club of Hendersonville has been a driving force behind many of the organizations and events that have made the city what it is today.
The women first met on Nov. 10, 1970 – just 16 months after the city incorporated.
Five months later, on April 27, 1971, the club became a part of the Tennessee Federation of Women’s Clubs with 15 charter members.
Referred to by their husbands’ names in the club’s history, they were: Mrs. Roger A. Attanasio, Mrs. Robert Benson, Mrs. Trajan H. Carney, Mrs. W. Scott Lindsay, Mrs. James A. McCloud, Mrs. Lloyd McKelvy, Mrs. Frederick W. Miller, Mrs. Richard Y. Newton, Mrs. John S. Powell, Mrs. Walker C. Raiford, Mrs. Ilene Robinson Cowden, Mrs. Richard M. Sellers, Mrs. Thomas Suarez, Mrs. Samuel E. Walton, Jr., and Mrs. J. Kenneth Woodard.
With an operating budget of around $500 that first year, members visited the Hendersonville Nursing Home on West Main Street and made favors for residents for their first service project.
Tennessee’s First Lady, Betty Dunn visited the club in the early 1970’s as did the wives of the governor’s cabinet who arrived in a chauffeured limousine. Another speaker at about that time informed club members about a new amusement park that was being planned called “Opryland.”
Over the years, the service club that averages a membership of about 50 women at any given time, has either spearheaded or financially supported nearly every non-profit organization in the city and lightened the burden for hundreds of college-bound students. Several city projects have benefitted from their fundraising efforts as well.
Darlene Rawls, whose mother was a charter member, joined the organization in the mid-1990’s.
“Since I was 11, it had always been a part of my life,” said Rawls. “These women just always loomed so large for me and I was inspired by their desire to give back to the community.”
Not long after joining, Rawls said she recalled the club holding several fundraisers for a non-profit organization that was just getting off the ground, The Jason Foundation, Inc.
“One of the very first groups in Hendersonville to support and promote The Jason Foundation was the Woman’s Club of Hendersonville,” said Jason Foundation President and Founder Clark Flatt. Started following the 1997 suicide of Flatt’s son, Jason, the foundation has grown into an international youth suicide prevention program.
Flatt said the local woman’s club hosted several fundraisers that were instrumental in getting the non-profit off the ground.
“But it was not only the funding that was so very important, they helped spread the message and helped JFI be introduced to churches, schools and other community organizations in Sumner County and beyond,” he said. “They have helped so many, especially young organizations, become viable service organizations in Sumner County with their support.”
A few years later, Rawls herself chaired an event that raised $40,000 for an addition to the Community Child Care Center.
At the time the two-year project started, the center had a waiting list of 120 children. By the time the addition was completed in November of 2005, 40 more children were enrolled in the day care center that serves parents on a sliding scale.
The following spring, the club was recognized at the GFWC state convention with a first-place community improvement award for their efforts.
Rawls says potential members are told upfront what’s expected of them.
“One of the things we stress in orientation is this is not a social club,” she said. “We do have social events, but it’s a working club. It takes your time, your creativity. There’s always something to do.”
Sharon Pace joined the woman’s club 17 years ago after moving to Hendersonville from Houston, Texas.
“I was looking for a way to volunteer, a friend invited me and I just loved it,” she said.
Pace has served as club president, district secretary and state vice president.
She notes the club won two international awards for volunteer projects that meant a lot to her: the renovation of the Sumner Teen Center in Gallatin; and the club’s work with what has now become the Sumner County Family Resource Center.
The latter project was first brought to the club by member Rachel Collins and Van and Carrie Hohe who started to fill a need among the county’s homeless student population by repurposing clothing items left at the end of the school year for those in need.
“That’s the one that touched my heart the most,” said Pace, who watched the program grow into the Family Resource Center, a program administered by the Sumner County School district.
“It just turned into an incredible, enormous project,” said Pace.
She’s also co-chaired the club’s annual spring fashion show twice – the proceeds of which have gone to several scholarships the organization funds.
The Volunteer State College Foundation is one of those organizations, according to the foundation’s Executive Director, Karen Mitchell.
Since 1993, the club has funded 58 scholarships with $72,650, Mitchell noted.
“In many cases the recipient may have not otherwise been able to attend due to funding,” said Mitchell. “I know they fund other scholarships so this is only a small portion of their impact over the years in our community. We are so thankful for their dedication to the journey of education for the young people in our community.”
Club members gave away $16,200 in scholarships at their May luncheon alone.
“The Woman’s Club has a tradition of community impact,” said Hendersonville Mayor Jamie Clary. “Just off the top of my head, I can think of its support for Rock Castle, Community Child Care, Hendersonville Samaritan Association, the Humane Society, Mary’s Magical Place, the YMCA, and college scholarships. I know they have impacted many others. Their impact is felt daily in Hendersonville and their legacy will be evident for many more decades.”
Pace adds to Clary’s list Kids Kingdom, the Sumner County YMCA, CASA, Homesafe, Ashley’s Place, The Hendersonville Hometown Jam, and the American Cancer Society.
“We just do a little bit of everything and we do it really well,” she said. “I feel like we have contributed to the fact that Hendersonville is a wonderful family community. We all just want what’s best for our children and our grandchildren.”