Gardner Athena Club Chapter celebrates 100 years of giving back to the community

Lynne Hermansen
Gardner News

There is a little hidden secret tucked away in the history of Gardner.

It’s a secret that continues on 100 years later within a group of women performing works of charity for local residents.

“I truly do believe we are the best-kept secret in Gardner,” Athena Club President Juanita Rothaus said. “And that’s a shame. We as club members need to do a better job of letting the community know.”

Members of the General Federation of Women’s Club from across Kansas gathered at the 1st Baptist Church on Shawnee Street to celebrate 100 years of the Athena Chapter on April 29.

The club believes in living the volunteer spirit through community service projects to help impact their local community through global good. There are more than 60,000 members in every state and a dozen countries supporting the arts, helping preserve natural resources, advancing education, promoting healthy lifestyle, encouraging civic involvement and working toward peace and understanding.

The GFWC was officially founded in 1890 by professional journalist Jane Cunningham Croly. The Athena Club in Gardner began in 1922 as a social science club, and were federated in 1923.

Rothaus said her experiences in the club had been fun and she gained a lot of knowledge and wisdom from her time as a member.

After a welcome from Rothaus, the celebration kicked off with a slideshow, illustrating the club’s history through photos of past members along with current members.

“I am so glad that you are here today,” Rothaus said. “If you didn’t know we are celebrating the Athena Club 100-year anniversary. Yay.”

Scout Troop 6800 members Paige Miller, Kenzie Park and Harriet Vittorino presented the colors.

GFWC Athena Club members recognized during the event, included vice president Linda Lloyd, Kathy Baker, Toby Winehead, Linda Rothwell, Doris Smith, Ruth Harmon and Laura McCarty.

“Thank you, Athena Club for all that you have done today,” Rothaus said. “We look forward to another 100 years.”

Rothaus recognized other GFWC members in attendance from across the state, including current state president Janine Eilert, and former state presidents Shirley Thirley, Jamie Urban, Jan Moore, Kathy Baker and Ruth Harmon.

Capt. Jacob Hayes from the Gardner Police Department was invited and said it was his first time attending also attended the meeting. Hayes was joined by GPD community policing officer John Stimatze.

“Thank you guys for having us,” he said.

Hayes said he was amazed by the club’s accomplishments over the last century. He explained his role as the operations captain for the Gardner Police Department

“Your police department is 45 strong individuals, including our civilian staff, that provide every service from animal control to response to calls for service to investigations of any type of crime you might have,” he said. “A few things we have gotten excited about adding recently are things like officer Stimatze as our community (policing) officer. He tries to facilitate with any groups that need anything or any…needs someone might have. He is kind of your go-to for that.”

Hayes said the department wanted the public to understand they should never hesitate to reach out if they had any concerns or needs.

“That’s what we are here for,” he said. “You’re never bothering us. We try to provide the kind of service we want our families to receive when someone calls the police department.”

Rothaus also recognized former Gardner mayors Phyllis Thomen and Carol Lehman and thanked them for attending. State Rep. District 43 Bill Sutton attended, and said he was happy to be there.

“One hundred years,” he said. “Who was it that told me one of the people here was actually a charter member?”

The room broke out in laughter.

Sutton said he wanted to congratulate the group for its huge achievement.

“It is always easy to get an organization started, but the year in and the year out of continuing to keep people enthused, continue to serve the community, that takes a lot of effort and dedication,” he said. “I respect that. Kudos to you. That is fantastic work.”

Eilert, from Goddard, said she was honored to be at the anniversary celebration with her former state presidents.

“Do you care about your community?” she said. “It is obvious that you do because you have been here for 100 years. So you must care, but what specifically do you care about with your community?”

Maybe it was to keep the peace, Eilert said, noting that, as club women, they care about their community in multiple ways. She listed the music, art and writing competitions they sponsor on state and international levels.

“So Gardner Athena cares about their community and has been supporting their community for over 100 years,” she said. “And talking to Juanita, we hope you continue for another 100 years, and you continue caring and supporting the community into the future whether it is 100 or 150 years from now.”

Eilert read a quote that stated in order to make a difference in someone’s life you don’t have to be brilliant, rich, beautiful or perfect.

“You just have to care,” she said.

Rothaus read several congratulatory messages from Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran and 3rd District Rep. Sharice Davids as they were unable to attend.

Rothaus shared many of the projects Athena Club put together over recent years, ranging from sewing bibs and towels for Meadowbrook Rehabilitation Hospital, collecting hangers to donate to the nursing homes, collecting puzzles, gathering canned foods for residents with food insecurities and helping Joy’s Closet.

Athena Club meets at 11:30 a.m. every third Wednesday of the month from May–December at the Grange Building.

Rothaus said anyone interested in becoming a member could fill out an application. At their recent height, the club had 39 members. Currently, they have about a dozen members.

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