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Junior League celebrates 90 years of service to Charleston

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Some things have changed since the Junior League of Charleston was founded in 1923.

For instance, all the current active members work full time whereas Libby Beury was the only one of nine new members who worked outside the home when she joined in 1969.

And some things haven't changed in the past 90 years. Lifelong friendships are still being made as members work on projects together.

League president Megan Alldridge and Tara Markham were, and are, co-workers at United Bank and joined the service organization at the same time. "But we bonded over filling those shoe boxes," laughed Markham, referring to a Christmas project for low-income children. Alldridge was Markham's maid of honor in her June wedding.

Several active and sustainer League members recently met at the home of Connie Hamrick, where they browsed through scrapbooks that have been newly assembled to showcase at the League's 90th anniversary celebration Saturday in the Clay Center's Walker Theater.

The scrapbooks are filled with photographs, invitations, event programs and many newspaper clippings.

In the early years, the League was populated with wives and daughters of prominent Charleston families, so the society pages reported their every activity. One 1937 article from The Daily Mail ran the baby photographs of the members. Another clip showed four members with their shotguns who belonged to the Kanawha Skeet Club.

For about 20 years, the League raised money for its projects with an annual ball that always had a theme. For the Bowery ball, guests dressed in Gay 90s attire and in the program for the Country Fair year, women are photographed in straw hats or bonnets as the "Hired Help."

Alice Abernethy was amused by a page in the programs that husbands had paid to sign. Their signatures got them out of the doghouse for a year.

Saturday's affair won't be a fundraiser, president-elect Kortney Major said. Rather, it will be a chance to socialize, to exchange stories "and to toot our own horn," she said, pointing out that the League has contributed much to Charleston for 90 years.

The first major service project that the 30 charter members undertook in 1923 was establishing a Well Baby Clinic at Tiskelwah School. And because they owned cars, Junior Leaguers served as drivers for public health nurses and juvenile court workers.

Over the years, many of the League's undertakings have focused on children from early involvement at the Davis Child Shelter to starting a clinic for crippled children. Usually the programs initiated by the League eventually were turned over to other groups to operate.

That's the case with the Children's Theatre of Charleston, started in 1933, and the Boys and Girls Club, started in 1943. A children's museum, first at the old Charleston library and then for years at Sunrise, was a League project until combined with the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences 10 years ago. A representative of the League still serves on the board of Daymark, which operates three programs for youth in crisis and which the League helped establish in 1974.

The League's partnership with CAMC in establishing the Ronald McDonald House is the project that Abernethy said she is proudest to have worked on. She spoke to other organizations to gain support for the house and trained volunteers to work there.

Beury cited the ambitious project the League tackled in 1970, building 75 low-income apartments for Vandalia Terrace. "We stuck with it until it opened," she said, referring to the years of litigation over construction problems.

Some of those accomplishments will likely be touched upon on Saturday. Kathleen Demro, an at-large director with the National Association of Junior Leagues, will also attend the celebration.

Today, the League isn't taking on such time-consuming projects -- or fundraisers. It no longer holds balls or lecture series or the Whale of Sale.

But members aren't exactly slackers, either. The League provides either money or volunteers to six organizations: Daymark; The Bob Burdette Center; YWCA Sojourner's Shelter; Gabriel Project; Muscular Dystrophy Association; and March of Dimes.

The 60 active and 10 provisional members chose their volunteer placements from a League list that includes those six groups plus others. Members are required to attend monthly meetings and to work on a committee for the two yearly fundraisers.

"It's not as time intensive as it once was," Alldridge said about Junior League membership.

She acknowledged that the decades-old League faces competition from careers, families and other service or interest groups.

Still, Abernethy emphasized, "The Junior League is different from other organizations in that it trains women to be leaders."

She said, "The League has changed as women's roles have changed. But we would like to have non-working members also."

Alldridge said the League is always seeking new members. "The League is a Charleston gem and we are trying to keep the tradition alive," she said. Interested women may join in the fall or in January.

"We welcome all women who want training in leadership and who want to serve their community," Abernethy said.

To reach the Junior League, visit www.jlcharlestonwv.org, email jlchas@frontier.com or phone 304-346-5856.

Reach Rosalie Earle@earle@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5115.


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