After 25-plus years of conviviality and community service, members of WAVES Unit 27 of Hernando County have furled their sails.
The Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service unit — founded in April 1986 by women who served primarily in the Navy during World War II — had its curtain call Nov. 12.
"Only three of us are under (age) 80," said president Barbara McCarthy, 76, a Navy veteran of the Korean conflict, a seaman in communications, code deciphering and secretive messaging. "Three girls are in assisted living facilities. One is homebound."
Lee Lund, 89, a Navy veteran, vice president of the unit and a member since 1990, wrote in a wrap-up history: "The unit has disbanded because of the decline of membership due to death, health issues, lack of younger members to take office and not enough members to assume officer responsibilities."
Although the unit carried 16 dues-paying members, only five have remained active: McCarthy; Lund, a deployment controller and chauffeur in Europe during WWII; treasurer Christine Gonzales, 56, a Desert Storm vet in communications who achieved the rank of chief; Elsie King, in her 80s, a back-seat observer for test pilots in the Naval Air Force during WWII,; and master-at-arms Theresa Eichberger, a Navy telecommunications specialist aboard ships. All live in Spring Hill.
Asked why younger members haven't joined, McCarthy said, "Younger women are working, raising children."
Gonzales, who joined most recently, said, "I wanted to get together with women who knew what we all went through."
Unit officers closed their books on a treasury that had $5,693, most of it raised through garage sales and contributions at meetings, the latter including good-hearted requests from anyone who celebrated a birthday and pennies that were placed in a gallon jar. When the jar reached $25, the money was given to a community cause.
The WAVES charter required giving to local, state and national charities. Unit 27's donations, through the years and at its dissolution, are going to scholarships at Hernando County high schools; Athena House in Tampa, a shelter for homeless female naval veterans; People Helping People of Hernando County, which offers assistance to the elderly and needy; the Care for Paws Foundation, a pet adoption agency in St. Petersburg founded by a Spring Hill woman; Paws for Patriots, a national organization that trains dogs for wounded veterans; the SPCA of Hernando County, and Haley House at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa, which houses family members of patients.
Of the amount of money in its treasury, McCarthy said, "We've been very frugal. It's been rough to do very much."
But, over the years, the women veterans have done much.
They've talked to school classes about their military service and what it meant and did for them, encouraging youngsters to consider service opportunities. They marched their color guard in parades to spread the glory of women in the military.
At their final meeting, Mary Hinds, now of Ocala, who presented the chapter's charter, took part. McCarthy presented Hinds with the gavel that McCarthy had received from Hinds on assuming the unit's presidency.
"From the first president to the last," said Lund.
Hinds, in turn, presented McCarthy with a past president pin.
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.