End of an era in Huntington as Child Conservation Club disbands

Child Conservation Club members (from left) Nancy Fellinger, Janet Mettler and Mary Machall share a laugh prior to the start of the club’s final meeting on Tuesday, May 17, at Lock No. 4 Food and Spirits, in Roanoke. A dozen women attended the luncheon meeting.
Child Conservation Club members (from left) Nancy Fellinger, Janet Mettler and Mary Machall share a laugh prior to the start of the club’s final meeting on Tuesday, May 17, at Lock No. 4 Food and Spirits, in Roanoke. A dozen women attended the luncheon meeting. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Originally published June 6, 2016.

A keystone of an era in Huntington lasting nearly 100 years came to a close recently, after the members of the Child Conservation Club voted to disband.

A dozen women of the 17 still actively on the club’s membership roll came to the Lock No. 4 restaurant in Roanoke for their final meeting on May 17, where they enjoyed a lunch together and reminisced about some of their favorite moments being in the club.

Most reluctantly raised their hands when Club President Marilyn Hansen asked for a vote on whether to keep the Child Conservation Club going.

“We met once a month in the afternoon, and that’s a little difficult for people if they’re working,” Hansen explains. “And nobody wants to run for office anymore. Everybody is aging; a lot of them have health problems, and it’s just difficult to get people to serve.”

After a sumptuous meal, members passed around pictures and other memorabilia from the club’s past, and picked out party favors on the tables that were wrapped in colorful, pint-sized boxes. Club Secretary Nadine Piedmont read an entry from a club record book dated from 1923, giving a glimpse of how the group began a few generations ago, when most members had school-aged children.

The proposal to call it quits had been discussed for a couple of months prior to the final vote on May 17. When Hansen asked for someone to come forward to replace her as the next president, no one responded.

However, Hansen wasn’t resentful at the lack of volunteers; neither was anyone else. They understand that times have changed.

“They’re just the nicest ladies,” said club member Nancy Fellinger, “but nobody wants to be an officer anymore.”

It’s not that the ladies don’t like the Child Conservation Club any longer; most have been members for decades. Fellinger has been in it 42 years. Hansen has logged 41 years. Lucille Morris joined in the early ’80s, while Eloise Michael says she’s been in the club more than 25 years. Miriam Lockwood is the club’s oldest member at 92. Phyllis Minton has only been in the club for two years, but her children — in fact, children of all the members — have grown up and moved on to raise their own families, sparking the evolution of club members into grandmothers, and in some cases, great-grandmothers.

The Child Conservation Club, initially chartered in 1923 as the Child Conservation League, was so named because it was an organization to promote child care and the needs of children. At its inception, dues were 50 cents per year.

Many of the club members passed on their experiences, wisdom and knowledge to the younger mothers about successful child rearing and how to keep a home.

“At the time it started, women were at home. Our club meets in homes,” Hansen recalls. “I really liked it because there was such a variety of ages. Most of my girlfriends, at that age, all had little ones too. A lot of them had high school-aged kids, married kids, so I really enjoyed their company.”

There was a limit of 25 members in the club, just because they met in each other’s homes.

“They would meet twice a month, the second and fourth Thursday of every month, and they would bring their children. So they would have someone watch the children. They would usually have them in a bedroom,” Piedmont says. “One of the meetings would be a social meeting, and the second meeting would be business.”

In years past club members dressed up in their “Sunday best” to attend the meetings, which included wearing hats and gloves and pearls. There was always a cultural program, and refreshments. At Christmastime the children would put on a special program for their mothers.

Sometimes the ladies would get together and go to plays or other special events. Many attended church together. All were stay-at-home moms.

“It was philanthropic on a small scale,” says Jackie Young. “What we did give was to children’s groups and things. This last donation was from an auction we had, and it’s going to Youth Services. Things like that — the Boys & Girls Club, or the Y.”

The official last meeting of the Child Conservation Club was bittersweet, as members enjoyed chatting and catching up on the latest news. It was hard for some to believe the club will be no more.

“I’m disappointed. I’ve really enjoyed being in the club,” Hansen says. “And of course, it’s varied through the years. Some people are only in a few years and drop out or move or whatever. But we’ve always had such a great group of women. I’ve enjoyed their company.”

Jean Mettler will also miss the camaraderie during club meetings.

“I feel bad, but I think women’s clubs are a thing of the past,” she says. “Ladies now are too busy, and it started out with an afternoon out to get some culture, because we have a program at every meeting. And that’s the way women’s clubs started, I think. I feel bad, but I don’t know what else you can do.”

As a last matter of business, the members of the club closed its bank account and donated the remaining funds — $265.72 — to the Youth Services Bureau of Huntington County.

Despite the fact that the Child Conservation Club no longer exists, the friendships forged over the years have formed stronger bonds. The ladies plan to continue to meet occasionally, with a get-together possibly in the works as soon as Sept. 20.

“We’re hoping that into the fall we can also do something like this, and maybe have a lunch together and kind of keep in touch,” adds Lucille Morris.