An Omaha all-women's social club ending after 100 years

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — At the Last Supper, they served citrus pesto salmon and tomato-topped salads in boat-shaped bowls.

You could see the state Capitol from the wide windows atop the US Bank building where, on a lovely evening in May, the Wooden Spoon Club celebrated 100 years of life.

And its imminent demise, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.

The reading of the club's last will and testament would come later, along with sheet cake and ice cream, which may or not have been eaten with actual wooden spoons by the last members of the once-thriving dinner club.

"The years have taken their toll on this family, 14 members survived." Louise Alfrey declared before supper, reading off current members' names, and adding an RIP for good measure.

"As we remember Wooden Spoon we will not cry, just say thanks for the memories."

Louise Pound — Dr. Louise Pound, literary scholar and athlete extraordinaire — founded the Spoon in December 1919. She wrote and recited poetry and created characters and brought Clare McPhee and May Pershing and a holy host of other accomplished Lincoln women into the fold.

"Instructors in university and high school, interior decorators, musicians, artists, journalists, writers of advertisements, publishers, dramatic artists, dressmakers, dancers and business women," a Lincoln Journal story noted in 1920. (The after-dinner program for the group of 50 that month included operatic selections and dances.)

Mabel Lee joined in 1924 and Bess Richards in '25. Maude Paine (Miller & Paine) was an early member and Barbara Bush, no relation to G.W., joined as well.

In 1969, two women were accepted for membership and one of them was recently present at the Nebraska Club, sitting at the head of the long table.

Margaret Penney wears her white hair in a short bob, a long-retired P.E. instructor at the university down the street.

The remaining attendees — teachers and professors and musicians — sit in order of their tenure, from Lillian Lemon (1973) to Mary Kay Quinlan (2012).

They spend their last formal gathering recalling the fabulously funny skits, the singalongs with Dorothy Applebee (1975) on the keyboard, the places they met, the traditions that remain — tapping their long-handled wooden spoons on the table in appreciation.

"You had to dress for dinner," says Theresa Reinhard (1993), who grew up watching her mom get ready to go to the monthly supper club. "It just looked like so much fun."

She recounts the time that her mother, Louise Alfrey (1976), went to a spring meeting in an Easter bonnet made from a Frisbee strung with plastic eggs, sombrero style.

The skits eventually faded away. By 2013 there weren't enough members to field an audience, said Applebee, Keeper of the Records.

About that time members no longer dressed up or seemed to be able to convince interesting new women to join them.

"It's like we used to bowl in leagues and now we bowl alone," says Ali Moeller (1999). "Younger people are more spontaneous. They don't want to commit."

A swat with a wooden spoon for that.

The club's members are an interesting and engaged group of women with a fascinating history, says Quinlan, whose sister Ann Quinlan (1996) coaxed her into the club.

"These were professional women when it was very unusual to be a professional woman, and they found a way to find other women who could share experiences in a male-dominated society."

She assumes the early members sometimes networked, adds Quinlan, an associate dean in UNL's College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

And: "Formed friendships not associated with accomplishing a task."

That was the idea.

No dues, no philanthropic or political causes, no projects, no purpose except social, declared a 1987 story in the Lincoln Star.

"After dinner, club members present skits, often dressed in outlandish costumes. The skits, which are satirical, irreverent, amusing and sometimes risque — make the club, in a sense a female gridiron club."

Tonight's skit: The last act. A final dinner party with white funeral roses and black decor.

Before they toast the end with champagne and the reading of the will, they share memories.

The crazy skits, someone says. The creativity. Intelligent conversations. Meeting women they might not have otherwise met.

The time they walked en masse down the street in their pajamas.

That feeling, Lemon says.

"After a Wooden Spoon meeting you feel better. The rest of the world just stayed away."

___

Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com

An AP Member Exchange shared by the Lincoln Journal Star.

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