In its early days, members of the Tiffin Garden Club conducted monthly luncheon meetings in dressy attire, complete with white gloves and hats. After 84 years and dwindling membership, the four remaining members have decided to disband the club. The final meeting Thursday at the Seneca County Museum paid tribute to the past with an English tea.
Current members include president Sally Cook, secretary Nancy Tschanen, treasurer Barbara Joseph and member Sally Harvan. These women were joined by former members and past presidents Karin Brown, Toni Burns, Carol Dull and Mary Lilly. A guest, Suzann Melroy, and museum director Tonia Hoffert also attended.
Museum volunteer Brian Courtney helped the women compile club records into two volumes that were on display at the tea. Cook said she is working to complete a third book and to locate a place to store the club's archives. The documents list the club's founding in 1927, and the rosters include the names of many prominent women in Tiffin. The first president was Mrs. H.K. James.
PHOTO BY MARYANN KROMER
Standing (from left) are Mary Lilly, Carol Dull, Sally Harvan, Nancy Tschanen, Karin Brown and Sally Cook. Seated are Toni Burns (left) and Barbara Joseph.
"They usually just used the husband's name instead of the women's names," Tschanen said. "It was quite a prestigious club."
Surviving former members now reside out of the area or in senior living facilities. Many former members are deceased. Special recognition was given to past presidents and members Glenna Meyer, Eileen Ferrall, Florence Lynn, Martha Kildow, Evelyn Rodgers, Evelyn Baum, Gertrude Derr, Florence Collar, Miriam Gillig, Pat Gruss, Mary Jane Nevius, Virginia Cole, Christine Brickner, Ruth Malling, Mavis Pollock, Janet Fahrenbruck, Joanne Ranker, Joan Radkeiewicz, Margaret Marshall, Delores Seislove, Karin Brown, Carol Dull and Sally Cook.
The garden club treasury is to be closed out in the spring to purchase and plant a rose bush at Kiwanis Manor in memory of Evelyn Rodgers. Many of the club's plantings still can be seen growing around the community, most notably at the entrance to Hedges-Boyer Park and along Frost Parkway. Tschanen said those who are able will continue to maintain that area.
For the tea, Linda Hetzel, assisted by Coletta McCue, prepared and served the food, which included three kinds of tea, soup, salad, tea sandwiches, savories and a truffle for dessert. Hetzel also had placed a decorated Christmas cookie at each place. Each table had a small bouquet of red roses and green mums in a milk glass vase, and each woman was invited to take home a rose as she departed.
Cook had made tiny boxes from greeting cards for each person at the tea. She also provided table linens that she had made from the much larger table cloths that belonged to her grandmother. They had to be adapted for card tables, but Cook said it seemed to be an appropriate way to make use of some of her belongings.
"We cut them up for this size. My machine broke down, so they're all hand-sewn," Cook said. "In the box, there's a treat for you, and there's also a bulb, and I don't know what kind of bulb it is. So you take it home and plant it and have a surprise."
During its lifetime, the Tiffin Garden Club was affiliated with the Toledo and Cleveland Federations of Garden Clubs. The members took turns hosting the monthly meetings in their homes. Membership was open to women only, and new members had to be nominated by a current member and voted into the club. Tschanen said she was invited to join in 1995. She said joining other clubs is not an option for the remaining members because of their ages and various health issues.
"It's too bad that we can't go in with another group, but the other garden clubs meet in the evening," Tschanen said.
Margaret Marshall, 92, is the oldest former member. She was not able to attend the tea, but she spoke by phone to share fond memories of the 20-plus years she participated. At the time she joined, she was living in the Fort Seneca area. She said the group had a number of social events, some of which she hosted.
"We had formal teas, ladies with their hats and all," Marshall said. "I used to have the Christmas lunch. They would come here ... and as long as those girls were around to do the greeting. One year it snowed so bad ... I remember shoveling snow from my driveway to clear it. The gals came, and some of them came in a cab. There was so much snow, they could hardly park anywhere."
At one time, club members taught how-to gardening classes and hosted a garden show at Tiffin Mall to sell plants they had cultured and craft items they had made, Marshall said. She had worked on the entrance to Hedges-Boyer Park, where the women planted bulbs, trimmed the evergreen shrubs and replaced items that didn't survive.
"There was something about the salt they used to put at the entryway. That made problems for us. We had to replant because of the salt," Marshall said. "We were a very active club. We were doers."
The club usually decorated a Christmas tree at the museum, as the current members have done for the last time this year. They trimmed the tree in the second-floor music room.
Marshall continues to tend her small lawn and some bulbs at her current residence in Tiffin.
"There's something nice about being out and doing something in nature," she said.
The current and final Tiffin Garden Club president, Sally Cook, said she joined the club in 1998 when membership was more than 20 women. As she looked through the scrapbooks, she learned membership once had been capped at 35. Someone had to drop out before another member could be admitted. Other rules also applied.
"Your garden was inspected. They said that was one of their criteria. They had to look at your garden and see if it met their specifications," Cook said.
The club records also document many national and state contests the Tiffin club members had entered, earning numerous awards for their projects. Cook said some of the club's plantings have died or been removed, but she remembers some of the trees that are still thriving around the community.
"They did a lot of things. They did the landscaping out by the new Y and when they added on at the old Mercy Hospital," Cook said. "I have pictures of them doing all those things."
When the club was formed, it was the only group of its kind, but other gardening groups have sprung up since then. Cook said some years ago, she suggested allowing men to join the club to increase membership, but she was met with a resounding "no." In spite of the club's resistance to change, Cook has remained active up to the very end.
"It's a nice group and I've really enjoyed all the years I've worked with them," she said.