90 years of service

Published 10:43 pm Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Walking down the staircase, into the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts’ ballroom, guests were greeted by a harpist playing soft music in the background, tables with rose centerpieces and large, lit trees adorning the refreshment tables in the middle of the room.

This Woman’s Club of Suffolk affair was quite different than its founding event at a garden party 90 years ago in the home of Mrs. John B. Pinner.

Tuesday afternoon, dozens of Woman’s Club members and local political leaders met at the SCCA to celebrate the club’s 90th anniversary in the city.

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While there is no formal documentation to prove it, the Woman’s Club of Suffolk’s members believe their club is the city’s oldest civic organization.

Formed on June 8, 1919, the Suffolk club joined the General Federation of Woman’s Club, a non-profit organization aimed at serving the community through volunteer service. Specifically, the organization seeks to help in six main capacities: arts, home life, international work, public affairs, conservation and education.

Emma Jean Wise, president of the GFWC of Virginia, said the Suffolk Club’s long run is due both to the devoted work of its members and to the organization’s focus on service.

“It’s both,” Wise said. “We’re community-centered, and the Suffolk members show that the main focus we have is working the community.”

Throughout the club’s nine decades of service, its members have made many contributions to the city of Suffolk including founding the city’s first public library, which was housed in a room in the Woman’s Club House until the Morgan Memorial Library was built. When Morgan Memorial opened, the Woman’s Club donated more than 6,000 books to fill the library.

“I love the Woman’s Club, because we do all the civic work,” said Antoinette Williams, who has been a club member longer than anyone alive today, with more than 64 years served in the club. “I wish people could see the bank statements with all the money we give away.”

Many local leaders were on hand for the event, including City Councilman Leroy Bennett, Mayor Linda T. Johnson and Delegate S. Chris Jones.

In her remarks to guests, Johnson said that as the city’s first female mayor she is proud to serve a city full of “strong, trailblazing women.”

“You started way before we even had a right to vote,” Johnson said. “(Suffolk’s) heritage is so wonderful and getting stronger every day, and it’s because of people and groups such as this one.”

Following a brief presentation from Club President Jeanne Brinkley and the mayor, Jones had a surprise gift for the club members.

He presented the club with an official commendation from the Virginia House of Delegates congratulating the chapter on its 90th anniversary of service.