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Club marks 75 years as a "family of women'

(ran BEACH)

At 93 years old, Maude Fleming looks back fondly on 57 years of membership in the Pass-a-Grille Woman's Club.

Fleming recalls 57 years of luncheons, fashion shows, bridge and fund-raisers for local charities. Of entertaining military personnel stationed here during World War II and organizing a Brownie troop for local girls. Of sponsoring community-wide Halloween activities and inviting concert pianists to perform in the city. Of paying the hospital bills of a woman who couldn't afford them, and much, much more.

"We were there to help whenever we were needed," Fleming says.

The Pass-a-Grille Woman's Club this year celebrates its 75th anniversary as one of the oldest community organizations on the beaches. Several events are planned.

On Nov. 8, the group is holding a 5-kilometer run at 8 a.m. to benefit Brookwood, a residential treatment center in St. Petersburg for girls with a history of substance abuse or physical and emotional abuse.

On Nov. 13, the group plans to unveil a historic marker in front of their clubhouse, which the club constructed themselves 60 years ago. The club is also proclaiming Nov. 13 "Maude Fleming Day," in honor of its oldest living president.

A final event will be a gala for members on Nov. 22 at the clubhouse.

"Some groups are here today and gone tomorrow. This group came, bought property and set goals," says Barbara Frazier, the current club president and a member since 1992. "It's an organization where women come together as a family of women."

The club was organized in 1922 as the Pass-A-Grille Women's Town Improvement Society with 20 charter members.

The club was born after a fire destroyed several city buildings in October of that year, including the home of a Mrs. George Mason, a club history states. Several women friends organized a party in which everyone brought a pound of something useful to help Mrs. Mason replace everything she had lost.

The event was such a success, the women decided to form a club to promote sociability and civic duty in Pass-a-Grille. Dues were $1 a year, and the club soon had 50 members.

The club took its mission to heart. Early projects included encouraging residents to clean up rubbish, weeds and sand spurs on their land; building a playground in a public park; and placing new benches for visitors at the city pier and street intersections, according to 1922 Times articles.

The club's name was changed to the Pass-a-Grille Woman's Club in 1926. In the early years, meetings were held in the old school house on 10th Avenue. As the membership grew, the club purchased a lot on 22nd Avenue and convinced a wealthy Pennsylvania industrialist to finance the construction of the current clubhouse.

The white, wood-sided building with a large central meeting hall was completed in 1938 for $8,600. The mortgage was burned in 1945, old newspaper articles reported.

Longtime members remember the club as a center for social activities in Pass-a-Grille, such as dances and concerts from famous pianists and baritones.

Today, the club has about 115 members, including about 22 who recently joined. Members range in age from 27 to 94 years old. Many of the new members are young mothers.

Anyone can apply to join by submitting their credentials to the club's executive board. Two members usually sponsor new members and a two-thirds majority vote of the club's board is needed for initiation. Dues are $45 a year.

The women have monthly meetings with guest speakers on topical issues. They hold yard sales, toy donation drives and other fund-raisers for dozens of local charities, such as the Red Cross, Gulf Beaches Historical Museum and the Center for Spouse Abuse.

This year, the group is also planning some fund-raisers for themselves. The clubhouse is in need of some major repairs, including a new seawall, which could cost about $30,000. The club has already financed new windows, repaired the roof and put in a new air conditioning system, Frazier said.

"Anything built in 1937 needs a little TLC after time, just like we all do," Frazier says. "We're working on it."

Members are glad to keep coming back year after year. At this week's Monday card party, a dozen silver-haired bridge players chatted and nibbled on homemade brownies. Among them were Harriet Roberts and Ruth Wohleber, both in their 90s and members for about 20 years.

"It's been an asset to the community," Roberts said. "When I moved here, I wanted to meet people and find something to do with my time. This was it."

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