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Catonsville Woman's Club meeting a celebration mixed with sadness

The members of the Woman's Club of Catonsville will gather one last time on April 2 to pose for a commemorative photo.

Though the 80-year-old club officially disbanded in December 2012, its members have been chosen as Grand Marshals of the annual Catonsville Fourth of July Parade.

"It's quite an honor," said Anne Kaufman, president when the club disbanded.

Getting together for the photo session for the parade program is "bittersweet," according to Paula Ray.

Ray said she and the other club members were thrilled to be chosen, but a little bit sad that it happened after their disbandment.

"It iced the cake," Ray said.

"We're so proud of the way it ended," she said.

The Woman's Club of Catonsville was founded in 1932 after a group of nine local women decided to start a book club.

In 1935, the club became official as part of the national entity called the General Federation of Woman's Clubs.

The group's members dedicated their time and efforts to improving the community. They headed many historic projects, such as starting the first senior group before the Catonsville Senior Center was built on North Rolling Road and leading multiple revitalization movements in the Frederick Road business corridor.

"I truly believe that these women saved Catonsville," said Maureen Sweeney Smith, executive director of the Catonsville Community Foundation.

Sweeney Smith, who is also a member of the parade planning committee, said the choice for Grand Marshal was easy.

According to Sweeney Smith, it was a "unanimous vote by the committee."

"Everyone just loved the idea," she said.

Though she is not a member of the Woman's Club, Sweeney Smith has worked closely with the group.

When the club disbanded last year, the club members donated their clubhouse on St. Timothy's Lane to the Catonsville Community Foundation.

"We are continuing a lot of the things they did," Sweeney Smith said of the foundation.

For example, the foundation will continue to provide free meeting space for local non-profits and community organizations as the Woman's Club has done for many years.

They will also set up a small exhibit in the entrance to the building displaying information about the club and artifacts donated to the clubhouse over the years.

The clubhouse, built in 1959, provided a home for the club and gave the women of yesteryear a chance to congregate and learn together.

"It was a social opportunity, it was an educational opportunity," Sweeney Smith said.

According to Becky McNamara, a past president of the club who joined in 1957, the club was primarily focused on helping neighbors and solving problems in the area.

"They were interested in things in the community," McNamara, a Catonsville resident.

One of the biggest projects was leading a revitalization movement on Frederick Road during the 1960s and 1970s. At that time, Frederick Road was somewhat run down and dilapidated.

"It wasn't a place you would bring a business," Sweeney Smith said.

Members traveled up and down Frederick Road picking up trash, building parks and putting up planters filled with eye-catching flowers to beautify the area.

"We contacted the owners of the buildings and tried to get them to improve," McNamara said.

The club led a second round of beautification in the late 1990s, this time working with other members of the community in taking out telephone poles and taxing business owners who wouldn't improve their storefronts.

However, the most recent revitalization looked a bit different than the first.

"They did it in Chanel suits," said Sweeney Smith, who joined the effort as a volunteer. "We did it in T-shirts and jeans."

The club owned and maintained a consignment shop on Frederick Road for many years. Sales helped finance many of the group's community efforts.

"We worked hard, believe me," McNamara said.

Even after the clubhouse burned down in 1979, the club was able to recover and construct the building that stands today on St. Timothy's Lane, off Frederick Road.

"We enjoyed doing what we did," McNamara said.

Rachel Fink, a two-time club president, said the joy came from more than just accomplishing a goal.

"A lot of the enjoyment came from working with the people," Fink said.

The ladies of the club will be honored by the community this summer's during Catonsville's annual patriotic celebration.

Some women will walk carrying banners while others will ride in a float with signs displaying some of the group's achievements.

Now, the club is "back to square one," said McNamara.

Though the have officially disbanded, some of the members still meet as a small book club, exactly the way the club was starts 80 years ago.

 

 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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