EMPIRE -- A group of women, their spouses and other kin will meet late this afternoon at The Fruit Yard Restaurant to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Empire Women's Country Club.
No, they won't play 18 holes of golf first. It isn't that kind of country club.
Nine women formed their club in September 1912 because living on the farms and ranches surrounding the small town of Empire involved isolation. The next-door neighbor might be a mile or more away. So they created their organization for social meaning friendship and altruistic reasons.
They found causes in need of support, giving the women the opportunity to unite once a month, and always at a member's home. Whatever money they raised or items they made went to the cause and not into maintaining a clubhouse.
Membership peaked at about 40 in the 1970s. Now, it has 15 who want to carry on the tradition and keep the club alive.
Virtually every community everywhere has similar organizations that have survived for decades social clubs such as Modesto's 105-year-old Sylvan Club or service clubs akin to the 90-year-old Modesto Lions that need to recruit to perpetuate themselves. Most, if not all, do good works in their communities.
The other thing these groups have done perhaps equally important in the grander scheme is kept minutes reflecting what happened in their clubs and communities over the decades. These documents provide prime research fodder for local historians and authors who can't always find what they want in libraries, museums and newspaper clippings.
The Empire Women's Country Club compiled a book containing photographs, minutes and other documents dating back to the club's inception. It details how the club's first members rode to their meetings by horse and buggy or on horseback. The women refused to become political, never endorsing candidates during an election.
"That's probably why we stayed together and speaking to each other," said Arlene Silva Mattos, a member since 1974.
They did, however, hold informational sessions about current events of the time, including the building of the Panama Canal in 1912 and issues involving the Modesto Irrigation District.
In 1915, club members together took a UC Davis correspondence course by mail. The subject? Home economics, one that most of these women probably could have taught.
They made clothing for the Red Cross during World War I. They raised money and collected clothing for the Faith Home Ranch orphanage near Turlock, an effort that began in 1924 and lasted for more than 50 years.
They bankrolled a Victrola phonograph and a piano for Empire Elementary School, and later funded a music scholarship for the school.
In the 1930s, when Empire residents clamored for a community swimming pool, the women's club began supporting the effort and continued do so until the pool finally opened in 2005, seven decades later.
When World War II began, they pitched in by rolling bandages, buying war bonds, taking their turns scanning the sky for enemy planes, and sprucing up the military's old Hammond Hospital on what is now Modesto Junior College's West Campus.
Every one of the aforementioned contributions, and countless others buried in the club's minutes and records, provides details that, to a diligent and resourceful historian, reveal so much about an organization, a town and the people who step up to make them better.
The club's rosters have included generations of family members. Susan Raduechel, who joined in 1974, is one of nine from her lineage to belong. She was preceded by her mom and two grandmothers grandma Myrtle Pfarr was among the nine founders three aunts on her dad's side, two on her mom's side and a cousin.
Several other members are third generation, though not descended from a founding member. Member Helen Huff was born two years, and Helen Wallace three, after the club formed. Three others, including Mattos, are in their 80s.
Hence, the next mission for the Empire Women's Country Club: to restock. They've welcomed three new members in recent years, including one with Empire roots but now living in England. Needless to say, she doesn't make it to the monthly meetings.
"We're hoping that as people from my age group retire, they'll have time and be interested in joining," said Raduechel, 69.
It's open to women who grew up in rural Empire, have longtime ties to the area or have moved there in recent years.
They've made it to 100. Here's to the next century.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at email@example.com, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.