Nisswa Women’s Club carries on century-long tradition of charitable giving
Founded in 1920, the Nisswa Women’s Club is celebrating its 100th year by continuing a century-long mission of charitable giving that has never wavered.
“There will always be charitable needs. We won’t change that mission,” said Jane Gunsbury, a Nisswa Women’s Club member since 1990. “Sociability and charitable giving is what binds the club together.”
Despite cancellation of the club’s 37th annual fashion show in May - its biggest fundraiser - because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the club will still give scholarships this year as it looks at more innovative ways to raise money.
A current campaign is “100 Women, 100 Years,” where the club is asking for $100 donations toward scholarships. Scholarships for Pequot Lakes and Brainerd high school seniors, as well as nontraditional female students at Central Lakes College, totaled more than $255,000 from 1995-2020.
Also during those years, more than $120,000 has been given to area medical and health initiatives, community service and improvement, educational enhancement and child welfare. Other charitable causes the club has supported over the years include the food shelf, Nisswa School, libraries and the women’s center, among many others totaling around 100 organizations and groups.
Ingrid Anderson is one of the club’s longest participating members, having joined in 1972. She attended a few meetings at the invitation of friends, and then learned all she had to do to join was pay a $3 annual fee. Nice lunches, nice people and interesting programs have remained a mainstay over the years, she said.
“We aren’t just a social club,” said Mary Gibson, club member since 2005.
Besides strong support for the club’s charitable giving, the three women said a favorite part of monthly meetings is the educational speakers, where topics can range from flower arrangements to current affairs.
Once boasting more than 300 members, the club is still going strong with 214.
“Women come from all walks of life,” Gunsbury said, and from communities surrounding Nisswa and beyond, including the Twin Cities and other states.
Annual dues are $20, and club members pay $20 per month to attend the luncheon at an area restaurant that includes an educational speaker. Around 100 women attend monthly luncheons.
The club turned to online Zoom meetings at noon the third Thursday of the month during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it has an online newsletter called The Hummingbird (the club’s official insignia) with links to speakers and videos.
The Nisswa Sewing Club was founded in 1920 by 14 women, according to a history Gunsbury compiled. Membership dues were 25 cents, and more funds were raised to help the needy by sewing quilts and layettes and selling them. The club also gave layettes to infants from needy families.
“Although raising funds and financing service projects was their primary mission, the membership never missed the opportunity to socialize over coffee and a home-baked treat, a tradition continued even today,” Gunsbury wrote, noting that like today, each monthly meeting featured an informed speaker about current events of interest. “Promoting fellowship and supporting each other forged lasting friendships that have made the club a success for 100 years.”
The club also was known as the Nisswa Busy Bees, and in 1935 the name was changed to the Nisswa Women’s Club. The primary mission remained to serve the community. Strawberry suppers, heirloom teas, dances and card parties helped to fund charities.
In 1937, members hosted a flower show and a bake sale, adding Thanksgiving food baskets for the needy and a girls club to the charitable giving list.
The club decided in 1938 to remain autonomous and not join the State Federation of Women’s Clubs, ensuring all its funds and efforts could be directed locally.
During World War II, the club grew to around 40 women and efforts went toward the Red Cross and the USO. Locally, the club provided Christmas baskets and treats to needy families in Nisswa and the Pequot Lakes nursing home.
Charitable giving expanded further to include the March of Dimes, Christmas Seals, Easter Seals and cancer fund. They even sent boxes of clothes to Amsterdam, Holland, after the war.
In the 1950s, club members helped organize Nisswa Girl Scout and Brownie troops and bought books for the Nisswa School library. A rummage sale, card party and food sale, along with collaboration with local merchants became primary funding sources.
Since 1961, the club has focused on fundraising for scholarships for local high school graduates and CLC students. Scholarships were $100 each in 1962, growing to four high school scholarships totaling $6,000 and four CLC scholarships totaling $6,800 in 2020.
“Clearly, the Nisswa Women’s Club has had an unsung influence on the betterment of its community,” Gunsbury wrote.
The Nisswa Women’s Club had scheduled a 100-year celebration for Aug. 20, but delayed it because of COVID-19 concerns and hopes to reschedule for December.
For more information about the club, visit nisswawomen.org or the club’s Facebook page.
Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.