Garden club reflects on changes and growth

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In 1952, 10 women adorned in white hats and gloves met for lunch to form the Harbor Island Garden Club. More than six decades later, dressed in anything from fur to jeans to flip-flops, dozens of ancestors and friends of those same original women met Friday for the club’s 65th annual Christmas luncheon at The Surf Club.

From fashion, average age, and budget to project scope, the club has evolved tremendously since its inception.

“My mother would smack me if I showed up in jeans and flip-flops!” joked Joyce Zimmerman, club president from 1981-’82.

Zimmerman explained that as style has evolved to a more casual nature, senior members have become accepting of change.

“Everything is much more casual and that’s OK. I’m not gonna do it!” she said. “But we’re accepting of those that do.”

More than a dozen former presidents were in attendance during Friday afternoon’s 65th annual Christmas luncheon, where members and their guests bid on donated silent auction items while local band The Rusty Bumpers entertained.

Shirlee Gearhart, garden club president from 2009-’10, observed that while long-held traditions are upheld, culture has slowly evolved. Compared to when she first joined, Gearhart believes that now there is a much wider age range in average members.

“Many more younger people now. In my day, I couldn’t join until I retired. Now the younger people have jobs that are flexible,” she said, referring to garden club policy and procedures that ensure and prioritize commitment.

The club meets nine months out of the year on Friday mornings and members are permitted to miss up to two meetings unless granted permission through special circumstances.

“Back in the day when I started in the ’80s, most women didn’t work outside of the home. They had more time to focus on our projects,” said Sandy Overbeck, club president from 1985-’86.

Now, the club is comprised of more working women.

“The women in the club today, I would say, are more business women. They’re out creating huge ideas to bring in big money so we can hire people to do the budget,” Overbeck said.

With the influx of younger members, the club has adjusted culturally in various ways.

New members have brought “bright ideas” and “fresh energy” to the club, helping to keep the club from getting stagnant, veteran members said. Compared to the early years of the club, new members have a significantly larger budget to work with on the various beautification projects the club diligently pursues.

“When I was president, we had $500.  Now, the budget is minimum $25,000,” Zimmerman said.

Club members explained the majority of the funding for their charitable beautification projects comes from internal efforts. Members donate their time, skills and hard work in order to continually serve the Wrightsville Beach community in a significant way, Zimmerman said, noting that recycling, pole decorations, Harbor Way Garden and Lee’s bird sanctuary are club projects.

Current president Melynda McNeil said she is grateful for the opportunity to work on larger projects with the club’s standing budget.

“We work very hard and we get out there and we love doing it,” she said.

The opportunity to engage with the shared bank of knowledge and skills exchanged between generations is clearly honored by both veteran and freshman members.

Veteran presidents said that while culture has shifted, the core values that form the backbone of the garden club remain as strong as ever.

The oldest living member, Anne Davis, served as president from 1961-’62. Davis has seen the breadth of these “cultural merges” firsthand since joining the club in 1957.

“We’ve gotten bigger projects now. I think everybody has more enthusiasm, hard work and we are seeing the results in the community,” she said.

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