Harmony — it can make a difference
What does the word harmony mean to you? Could it be a situation in which there is friendly agreement or accord? Perhaps you believe harmony is a pleasing combination of musical sounds. In Underwood, 50 years ago, the word “harmony” became the name of a local homemakers club.
Harmony Homemakers was chartered in the fall of 1963 with the help of a county agent, Don Peterson. Some of the charter members were Gladys Rust, Karen Johannes, Arvilla Leidholm, Mrs. Junkert, Marthella Brown, Sharon Koenig, Barb Wilke (who served as the first president) and my mother, Marian Repnow.
One of the first duties of the club was to select their name. Members submitted suggestions and Harmony was the choice presented by my mother. She was well aware of how important harmony was on the home front, as she had just had her fifth son, Kelly. Living in a home with six males was considerably more enjoyable when friendly agreement dominated the daily routine.
Her suggestion won the club’s approval and set them on their notable course. Believe it or not, homemakers’ clubs were not just about sewing, baking and entertaining the family with rye bread spread with cheese and decorated with green olives. Over the years, the Harmony Homemakers have discussed issues such as early reading programs for preschool children, the quality patient care at nursing homes and the State Hospital in Jamestown, and proper immunizations to families. They also took an early interest in why children should develop their musical and artistic talents. Another topic that is still of concern today is how much violence children are exposed to through media such as television, magazines, books, and currently, the Internet.
They held meeting once a month on the second Thursday. At these meetings, programs such as the ones listed above were presented. Now it does not take an Einstein to realize when a cast of women gathers with a reason and purpose, they are going to trigger the brains of others. These informative meetings were adding to their houses of knowledge and equipping them to promote extra healthy and well-versed lives among their families and their community.
Service projects that have been connected to the Harmony Homemakers include the Well Baby Clinic and Take and Bake Day for the elderly and shut-ins in the community. They also became involved with the betterment of Underwood. In my mother’s collection of newspaper clippings, there is an article and picture when she served as president of the club in 1977 presented the Park Board President, the late Dave Binkley, a check to help with the fundraising for the Underwood Swimming Pool. The ladies of this club promoted community first and that created an admirable foundation for their service. Many of these ladies could recall driving their children to Riverdale or Washburn for swimming lessons. Now this key training was available at home.
Acrylic grapes, feather flowers, meticulous sewing projects and creating holiday items were just a few of the fun projects completed by the Harmony Homemakers. Terry P. Brown, a high school classmate of mine, recalls that his mother, Marthella, made her acrylic grapes in tones of water blue, emerald green and cloudy navy. My mother chose shades of Concord grape, purple and lilac tones and clustered them in an aluminum oblong tray – complete with gnarled driftwood. They were put on display in our living room with flanking amethyst vases. Other prized crafts were the doorknob hangers that look like a Christmas tree or snowman and embellished with sequins they crafted. Ceramics – now there is a 1970s word! To this day, I still honor that ceramic potato, complete with scoop, which holds the sour cream. How can anyone fail to recall the wide-open frog which held the kitchen sink scrubby? Several of these items always appeared at the annual Holiday Fair which
was held at St. Bonaventure Catholic Church.
Rust, who was a home economics teacher for several years in Underwood, knew how to motivate the club members. Johannes remembers Gladys when the club made tapestry purses with satin lining. Gladys was not afraid to tell members to “rip it out and start over” when it was not completed to her standards! At one point, the club made purses out of white plastic Hi-lex bottles. Now, stop laughing! These purses could effortlessly stroll down Fifth Avenue in New York City. They had a hexed design and were completely lined, decorated with straw flower designs and topped with a crocheted zipper. My mother’s Hi-lex purse is white with orange and yellow flowers. She paired this with a summer yellow dress in the early 1970s. She never feared when little chocolate hands came near her purse because it was very “wipeable” in addition to being stylish. Recycling – another cause promoted by the homemakers.
At times they called on family members to be part of their stylish efforts in the community – such as the fall fashion show. All Repnow boys were present: Tom modeled the latest Beatle wear, Neal strolled out in a CPO jacket, Oliver had a green paisley shirt wedded with blue trousers, and Kelly and I wore matching turtlenecks with checkered bell-bottom pants. Talk about harmony! Each club member had pulled together models from around their family table.
Meetings were held in member homes, which meant things were shined to the tone of a new copper penny. Home cooking was the standard and punchbowls, fancy napkins, silver trays and genteel centerpieces were not shy. Mom always made double dessert because she knew we all would want some.
Now the trick to getting dessert on the evening of homemakers was not to come downstairs too early. Kelly and I would appear rubbing our eyes and in loveable pajamas around the kitchen door when the last two or three ladies were about to leave. Need I say more?
Fifty years is a long time for a club to be around and still be thriving. Over the years, I can recall numerous ladies joining the club. Some that come to mind are Grace Simenson, Marge Guenthner, Ruby Landenberger, Marilyn Wohlk, Linda Ash, Ella Johannes, Sandy Landenberger and Beth Utecht. There is a sisterhood that comes with having been a Harmony homemaker, and its impact is lifelong. I recently visited with Gail Leidholm, a current member of the club, and she mentioned they no longer meet in each other homes, nor can she recall sewing on a single sequin! The club has around 18 members and their meetings are more relaxed as they enjoy the company of each other, sometimes at a group outing. Yet within their foundation remains the desire to make Underwood finer through service to the community – which they have done harmoniously for 50 golden years.