100 years ago, the Women’s Civic Club of Marine was formed with the mission to provide “an organized center of work and promote social relations”. They have fulfilled this mission by providing concrete and vital support through some of the most difficult times our country has known.
In 1965, after 50 years of vigorous service but declining membership, the Club asked itself again, “What is our mission?” Member Alya Zimmer replied, “We help where we can.” In the decades that followed, this small powerhouse of a social group raised funds for several large restoration projects in the village of Marine in Sainte-Croix and took over the operation of a museum.
Today, 100 years after its founding, the twenty or so members of the Marine Civic Club are once again asking themselves: “What is our mission? The answer to this question will depend on how the threads of the past intertwine with the needs of the present – and the future – of the village.
For the first 50 years of its existence, the Marine Women’s Civic Club provided direct assistance to residents and communities in crisis.
In the 1920s, she bought children’s shoes and paid for medical care and ambulance services. She bought firewood for poor locals and provided Christmas boxes to Marinites living at the “poor farm”. In 1927 the Club provided flood relief funds and in 1929 they helped a family settle down after losing everything in a tornado.
When the country sank into the Great Depression, so did Marine. The Civic Club created its own relief committee to help struggling men and families. They bought clothes, paid for a haircut and shave (75 cents) and provided food for struggling families. They also got involved in the Red Cross.
Longtime member Shirley Mills remembers their work on behalf of the military during World War II. She was young when she started attending meetings with her mother. Shirley remembers rolling bandages for the Red Cross. The Stone House Museum in Marine includes a helmet worn by Red Cross volunteers. They also sent cheering packages to the “overseas boys”.
In the 1940s and 1950s, members turned their attention to people with poliomyelitis and tuberculosis. They provided financial support to the Sister Kenny Foundation (now the Courage Center), the Polio Fund, the March of Dimes, and Easter Seals. They raised some $1,400 for an elevator for a nearby retirement home.
In 1971 they started a volunteer service at Marine to “help anyone who might have an emergency in their home who is unable to help themselves”.
The sons of welfare
The Club also brought the community together to celebrate. They held their first ice cream party in 1925, an activity that continues to this day. So does the annual Progressive Dinner, first hosted by the Civic Club in 1927 and now a Restoration Society fundraiser.
The Civic Club made the holidays special. They paid for fireworks, streamers, flags and poles. They bought the community Christmas tree and sponsored the children’s Halloween party at the village school. They continue to provide refreshments for the Memorial Day event at the Marine Cemetery.
In 1928 the Club became the sponsor of the local Girl Scout troops, a relationship which continued for many decades. Young Shirley Mills participated in joint Boy Scout and Civic Club programs. They paid for the girls to go to camp. Later, the group also sponsored scout troops.
Of course, the club has also provided great social support and connection to its many members. Flowers for the celebrations, sympathy cards, educational programs, trips and discussions – the opportunities to work and play together created close and lasting relationships that continue to this day.
The July meeting was used for the annual picnic.
There were no husbands or male friends included. Everyone had had a great time.
find their voice in public affairs
From its inception, the women of the Civic Club have used their voice to advocate for the betterment of their community and their state. They engaged in regular letter writing campaigns.
• 1926 – They write to their senators and representatives about a bill to regulate broadcasting.
• 1932 – They ask the Navy Board to oppose the granting of a commercial license to a man “of bad reputation”.
• 1936 – They ask the utility company and then the village council to reduce the cost of electricity for lighting.
One of their most interesting letters to the village council concerned a sensitive issue:
As Secretary of the Women’s Civic Club, I have been instructed to write you a letter regarding some men’s disgusting habit of using open spaces as public restrooms. This is done between buildings and sometimes just outside prominent buildings. It is not only disgusting but demoralizing, especially for our children and teenagers. Will you please do something about this? … [W]We appeal to you, City Council, to allow women and children to come to the city center without being insulted and embarrassed. We hope you will take active action.
Most women were not working when the club started, so civic club meetings were an opportunity for women to engage in political and intellectual matters. Virtually every meeting included a guest speaker on topics ranging from national politics and international affairs in the 1920s and 1930s, to social and health issues in the 1940s, to travelogues with “color slides illustrating the members’ recent travels in the 1950s and 60s.
History and natural resources were frequent topics beginning in the 1970s when the Civic Club deepened its relationship with the state historical society and with environmental institutions in the area.
In 1931, the Civic Club opened its own library, with 60 books donated. In two years, the collection grew to 172 books. The library moved from place to place until 1950, when the village council allowed the group to use the town hall as library space.
Civic Club members have a long-standing interest in history. They invited James Taylor Dunn, librarian of the MN Historical Society, to speak at the Club in 1957. Eventually, they supported his work by writing the book Marine on St. Croix, 150 Years of Village Life.
Several members of the Club – Hazel Lindell, Dorothy Moore and then Ann Ecklund – created and maintained the Stone House Museum. Eventually, they turned to other Civic Club members for help. While the village of Marine sur Sainte-Croix owns the land and the building, the Civic Club manages the museum and manages the collection.
In 1963, when the museum opened, it attracted 750 visitors. By 1999, the numbers had dropped precipitously. Visibility has always been a challenge due to its out of the way location. The Club asked the MnDOT for a sign along the roadway, but their request was denied.
The Civic Club has been a fundraising engine since its inception. Over the years they have sold jams and jellies, crafts, plants, note cards, stationery, Bicentennial plates, mugs, books, tourist guides and videos.
For 60 years, the group has held fun and financially successful card parties to support their charitable giving. In the 1970s they started a member labor exchange where one percent of the money paid to the member-worker went to the Club. In 1986, the Civic Club joined with the Restoration Society to organize a well-attended vintage fashion show of clothing from 1850 to 1960.
Where did the money go ? It was invested in people, many of whom are no longer with us today, and in places that are still very much alive and used.
The Civic Club brought light to the village, first paying for the wiring and lighting for the village school, then purchasing lights in the council chambers of the restored town hall, then wiring and lighting the Stone House Museum.
The Club brought music. Many pianos have been purchased and tuned through Marine through Civic Club fundraising. In 1936 they helped fund the church bell…and in 1987 they helped the church buy a new bus.
They donated for the construction of the fire station and the repairs to the red bridge. They worked hand in hand with the Restoration Society to raise funds to renovate the village hall and the stone house.
“I think the mission of the Civic Club will change,” said current Club Treasurer Kay Hempel. “He will continue to serve the community, but the next generation will take over. It will be what they want to do with it. I know one thing; we encourage male members.
Its first male member is Marine Mayor Kevin Nyenhuis. “I would like to see a goal of 100 members in 100 years. It would be a nice step.
“There are very strong and dedicated organizations that do a lot of public good in our community – the church, the Lions Club. But it would be nice to have a channel for things that are really navy-centric. Sure, the story and the museum are going well, but there’s a lot of potential for citizenship-focused things in the future. I’m all for anything that creates connectivity within the community.
Longtime member Peg Arnason, former Mayor of Marine and President of the Civic Club, wants it to continue, but acknowledges it’s unlikely to be in the form of afternoon tea and a guest speaker . The younger generation doesn’t have that time in the middle of the day.
Although the form may change, she believes the function will not. “I see it as a gathering of people from the community ready to work on good projects.”
Club member Linda Tibbetts has a particular interest in the Stone House Museum. “The Marine Civic Club has operated the Stone House Museum since 1963. I believe it is important that this continues. I fear that if management of the museum is handed over to the already busy city staff, the character and historical significance could be lost.
Linda sees the Marine Civic Club continuing its tradition of fundraising for local businesses, contributing to projects, and educating the public about the historical significance of the village and the river valley.
New band member Lisa White joined because she loves history. “The Stone House Museum has a lot of needs right now. The building, the collection, everything has to be maintained. I would also like the Stone House Museum to recognize what was here before there was a city here. We know there were First Nations people in that area. I would like the museum to embrace that a bit.
With a current active membership roughly the size it had when it began 100 years ago, the Marine Civic Club is reinventing itself for another new generation. The club invites those interested in learning more about membership to contact Kay Hempel, 651-433-3919.
The Stone House Museum is open every Saturday and Sunday, 1-4 p.m., Memorial Day through Labor Day. The Civic Club will be hosting an Ice Cream Social on Sunday, August 7, to officially celebrate their 100th year of service to the community.
The Stone House Museum is located at 241 Fifth St, Marine on St. Croix, MN 55047.