Decades-old Huntington County club wrapping up next month

The women of the Altrusa Club show off the park bench they recently donated to the grounds of the Erie Trail, near the Erie Railroad Bridge, on Saturday, Dec. 2. Pictured are (seated from left) Carol Strickler and Juanita Buzzard; and (standing from left) Mary Ruthi, Robin Baker and Midge Decker. Not pictured is the remaining member, Ann Spahr. The club will disband in January.
The women of the Altrusa Club show off the park bench they recently donated to the grounds of the Erie Trail, near the Erie Railroad Bridge, on Saturday, Dec. 2. Pictured are (seated from left) Carol Strickler and Juanita Buzzard; and (standing from left) Mary Ruthi, Robin Baker and Midge Decker. Not pictured is the remaining member, Ann Spahr. The club will disband in January. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Originally published Dec. 14, 2018.

A decades-old Huntington County institution will wrap up its final meetings next month, leaving behind a legacy of patriotism, efficiency, service and fun, especially for the county’s developmentally-disabled people.

There are several reasons why the Altrusa Club has decided to disband, but perhaps the main one dovetails with the length of time the club has been in existence.

“We got old!” jokes Juanita Buzzard, the secretary of the group, whose sense of humor keeps the rest of the club laughing. “Everybody has been president.”

“Our members are aging,” agrees President Robin Baker, “and the interest in joining clubs has really declined. And it’s not just our organization … We’ve finally realized we’re at the end of our resources.”

Altrusa’s national organization formed in 1917, making this year its 100th anniversary. The local chapter, called the Altrusa International of Huntington Indiana, got off the ground on Oct. 5, 1926. The club spent the next nine-plus decades living up to the  motto of “Patriotism, efficiency and service,” by taking on projects to make the community a better place.

The name Altrusa comes from “altruism,” which means helping other people.

Projects in the past benefited the Fort Wayne Development Center, the County Home, Huntington County Literacy Coalition, Huntington County Head Start and others.

“We have several times donated literacy books and activity packs to kids who are staying at the hospital,” says member Mary Ruthi. “In the past we have given backpacks or book bags to Head Start.”

The club also donated the frogs that grace the foyer fountain at the LaFontaine Center.

“We paid for three frogs the first time, then they found a fourth one and we paid for it,” says Baker. “Now they’re having to work on the plumbing because the frogs are croaking.”

The women of Altrusa also gave a large donation when downtown Jefferson Street was turned into a pedestrian mall, among its many projects to help the community.

In recent years, Altrusa’s main projects have been to brighten Christmastime for the disabled clients of Pathfinder Services. The club held a Christmas party each year – with a specially-arranged appearance by Santa and a gift chosen for each person attending the party.

“We decided we wanted to do a local project, and the county home ceased to exist,” explains member Midge Decker. “We had enough connections with Pathfinder Services that we decided to help those in Pathfinders that had no families.”

The last party was held Dec. 2, for about 30 excited Pathfinder clients and staff. Altrusa also threw a picnic lunch each fall for the clients, and the last picnic was in September.

Altrusa members also “adopted” clients who had no families and provided them with presents of goodies as well as needed items. Many of the members continued their special relationships with those they adopted, long past the Christmas season, often taking the clients out to eat, sending them encouraging cards and providing birthday presents.

“I still see Michelle Duncan from Pathfinders,” Ruthi says. “I took her out to supper Thursday evening … I stop by the house and visit her and her roommates.”

Members raised the money to fund their projects in a variety of ways, from selling wrapping paper to flower bulbs.

“I think people will remember that we were the ones that had the ham and beans at the Pioneer Festival,” Buzzard says.

“It’s apple dumplings now at the Pioneer Festival,” Decker adds.

The ladies who remain in the club have some wonderful memories of their time in the club. Ruthi won’t forget the time she went to order Kentucky Fried Chicken for a supper.

“When I got back with the chicken one of the club members said, ‘They didn’t give you enough chicken. There aren’t enough pieces here,’” she recalls. “I’m usually pretty meek about these things, but I decided to be assertive. So I marched back out to KFC, and I said, ‘You did not give us enough chicken – you only gave us half as much chicken as I paid for.’”

The store gave her the extra chicken she demanded, but when she got back with it, she discovered the employee taking out the chicken didn’t count the number of legs in her order.

“They had given us enough chicken. I went back later, and they had closed for the night. I was leaving the next day for Kansas and it was like two weeks later before I could get to it. I went to pay them and they wouldn’t take the money,” Ruthi continues. “For a long time I couldn’t even go to KFC because I was mortified that I had stolen chicken from them!”

Other memories include working at the Pioneer Festival and cooking beans at the high school.

At one time the membership roll peaked at around 40 women, but now it has shrunk to six. The club will no longer meet after January, but will still be on the rolls for a few more months, Decker says.

“We will probably cease to exist this summer, because that’s when the membership year ends, on May 31,” she adds.

“We really hate to shut down because of our projects,” Decker says. “We’ve had some really good programs over the years … We’re going to miss doing things for the clients, for sure. I’ve had more than one tell us it’s their best party.”

However, the friendships made in the Altrusa Club will not disband. Future plans include getting together to have parties and have a reunion of past members.

“It’s been a great bunch of people,” adds member Carol Strickler.