State Farm Women president believes in Christian heritage of farm women
Betty McGee (left) has been selected as the Somerset County Farm Women president for this year. She takes over the position from Marilyn Ogline (right). (Photo by Sandra Lepley / May 29, 2013)
Next year, will be the 100th anniversary of Farm Women, which was the brainchild of the late Flora Black who lived near Meyersdale.
Betsy Sattazahn, the current state Farm Women president from Berks County, believes that farm women are "beacons of light" who remain true to core values found on the family farm. And, even if these women are not directly from a working farm, they embody those values and try to make a difference in their communities.
They "bloom where they are planted" as founder Flora Black often said to do, or as the theme song conveys "Brighten the Corner Where You Are."
"My focus for my term of three years is 'Following the Golden Rule,'" said Sattazahn. "I chose this theme to highlight courtesy and respect for one another, to try to be beacons of light in an increasingly troubled world."
Sattazahn has been a member of Berks County Society of Farm Women Group 5 for about 30 years and was introduced to it through her sister-in-law. Her background is in home economics and she spent several years as a junior high school teacher before marrying a dairy farmer.
"Many of our members are daughters or other relatives of previous (or sometimes current) members," said Sattazahn. "When I found out I was expecting twins, I was fortunate to be able to stay home and be a fulltime mom. Our sons are now 28 years old and two years ago took over the management of our farm. They and their wives are Penn State graduates, having majored in animal sciences."
Sattazahn said that Farm Women are active in the community like any service organization would be. Many societies serve food at sales and fairs, work with food banks or pantries, support county dairy princesses, and provide assistance to families who may have experienced tragedies such as fires, storm damage and personal injuries.
The state organization of farm women has two main events in any given year — state convention which is held on a Monday in January during the Pennsylvania Farm Show and then in May, one of the participating counties hosts Spring Rally. Cumberland County will be hosting Spring Rally in 2013 and Franklin County in 2014, which will be the 100th anniversary for the organization.
In 1914, Flora Snyder Black (1870-1951) of "Holland Farms," located in between Meyersdale and Garrett on Black's Curve, felt the need for the farmers' wives of the area to get together. She invited them to come to her home for an afternoon of fellowship while the men were working.
Out of this time together, Die Hasfrauen was organized on Oct. 14, 1914, and on Oct. 10, 1917, the name was changed to its present title of "The Society of Farm Women." The little Meyersdale meeting spread throughout the state within a few years.
Some of the Somerset County societies were the very first Farm Women societies in the state. Somerset County Farm Women has hosted the state spring rally in past years and continue to remain active in their communities in several ways. They hosted their 93rd countywide convention last October at Sipesville firehall and installed officers.
The county officers are Betty McGee, county president; Mary Jane Kiehl, secretary; Marilyn Ogline, outgoing president; Betty Hearn, vice president; and Jeanne Custer, treasurer.
The Farm Women Society presidents from Somerset County for this current year are Mary Ann Ling, 1st Society; Mary Jane Kiehl, 4th Society; Anna Jean Ferguson, 8th Society; Judy Will, 12th Society; Sally Ware, 11th Society; Betty McGee, 7th Society; and Violet Shuster, 10th Society.
In recent years, Somerset County has lost a few societies — something that other counties have faced as well with dwindling memberships and an aging population.
According to Sattazahn, current state membership is more than 1,100 women with societies in 13 counties. Their motto is "For Happiness." Just 10 years ago, however, the state number was more than 2,000.
"Our membership is not at the numbers we would like it to be but many younger women are busy with their families and don't want to take on another obligation," explained Sattazahn. "A Farm Women group typically meets once a month and one's participation can be as much or as little as one's time permits. Many groups have decided to meet during the day rather than in the evening as many of the older women prefer not to venture out at night."
Sattazahn, and other farm women locally and statewide, try to promote the organization as much as possible. They believe in its heritage of doing good in the community and "brightening that corner."
"Sadly, most Pennsylvanians are unfamiliar with the Farm Women Society. Even in our counties with the largest memberships, we often hear people say, 'Why I never heard of this organization,'" said Sattazahn. "Also those who are approached about possibly joining a group mistakenly believe that one must live on a farm in order to be a member. This is definitely not the case. We only ask that a woman be interested in fostering an appreciation for the farm and rural life."
The farm women constitution states: It shall be the purpose of this organization in all its activities to contribute to the power and influence of farm women; to increase the influence of the farm home; to contribute to the community involvement of farm women; to develop leadership and to promote better living and working conditions in the farm homes of Pennsylvania.