From the Winston-Salem Journal, July 17, 1999
By Janice Gaston, Journal Reporter
In July of 1924, a group of farm women living in the Pine Grove community near Jonestown Road gathered at one of the women’s homes for a lesson on growing and canning tomatoes. The group, then known as a Tomato Club, became the Pine Grove Home Demonstration Club.
Last week, the successors to that group of women, members of the Pine Grove Extension Homemakers Club, gathered at Southside Baptist Church to wrap Christmas packages for Operation Christmas Child, a project of Franklin Graham’s missionary group, Samaritan’s Purse.
The club, which is considered to be the oldest Extension club in continuous operation in the county, will celebrate its 75th anniversary on July 26. Ruth Spach, who joined the club after she retired, represents a thread of continuity for the club. Her mother, Sarah Thomas, was a charter member, and Spach remembers walking a dirt road to attend meetings with her.
The first Tomato Club was formed for farm girls in South Carolina in 1910. The success of that club spurred interest in farm women, who wanted to participate in similar education programs.
The clubs were formed primarily to help farm women learn the best methods for growing and preserving food, said Martha Isenberg, a cooperative Extension agent.
At those early meetings, Spach said, the home-demonstration agent, Alice McQueen, gave cooking demonstrations, then the club members ate what she prepared.
Over the years, the clubs changed their names and emphasis. In the ‘20s and ‘30s there was a big push to beautify farm homes with landscaping, Isenberg said. In 1928, the home-demonstration clubs held contests for home gardens and yard improvement. A member of the Pine Grove club won a prize for growing 30 varieties of vegetables in her garden.
Club programs showed people how to make do with what they had, Isenberg said. Renie Miller, a club member for 35 years, remembers a mending project. She learned how to darn socks by placing them over a light bulb and stitching.
“You didn’t throw socks away; you darned them,” said Pauline Murray.
By the 1970s, consumer education became an important topic. This year, the clubs will hold programs on such topics as new clothing-care labels, environmental issues and functional foods for health.
Over the years, according to a written history of the homemakers clubs, “the women of Forsyth County became liberated from the confines of the kitchen and became vital community leaders.” Once, the extension agents attended every meeting of every club, as many as 44 operated in the county at one time. Now agents visit club meetings twice and year and provide leadership training for members of the 22 clubs that still exist.
Women going to work in big numbers contributed to a decline in membership for homemakers clubs, Isenberg said. Most of the Pine Grove club’s 13 members are retired. Those who work join the meetings on their lunch hours. They will soon welcome another new member.
Club member still ply such traditional skills as sewing and knitting. The other day, some brought in “fidget” aprons that they had made for Alzheimer’s patients.
“I finished 10 this week,” Miner said. Buttons, beads, pompoms and rickrack on the aprons give restless Alzheimer’s patients something to do with their hands.
Community service has become an important part of the club’s mission. The other day, members brought in shoeboxes filled with personal items and trinkets for children that they had bought for Operation Christmas Child.
The boxes—each labeled with the age and gender of the child they are meant for—will go to children in more than 100 countries across the world.
For the girls, members had bought glittering hair ornaments and delicate jewelry; for the boys, socks and yo-yos.
“I would like to label mine for the Congo,” Miner said. She and her husband are missionaries who have served there. “Rebels have taken over our community and our school,” she said.
The women laughed as they fumbled with scissors, paper and tape to cover the boxes in Christmas paper.
“Look at her,” Spach said, indicating Alice Board, who was wrapping with more facility than the rest. “She’s got an art to it.”
Board demonstrated her technique to the rest.
Isenberg, standing back and watching, said that in addition to learning new things, the club members enjoy the fellowship.
“A lot of homemakers are widows,” she said. “It’s good support.”