STORY — On a cold December day in 1919, the women of Story gathered together. While we may not know exactly what they discussed, we can imagine.
With snow whipping at their windows, it’s possible they talked about the challenges of the frontier lifestyle. Perhaps they decided that together, they could survive another long winter — and maybe, they eagerly anticipated the beauty of the 1920 summer to come.
Within two weeks of that first meeting, which included about 18 women, the Story Woman’s Club became a full-fledged organization, according to “Story Woman’s Club History: 1919-1999.” The history is housed in The Wyoming Room at the Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library and was written by Jean Lunbeck.
“One of the first club events was a special banquet for husbands and members, held at the ‘Hotel Lodore,’” Lunbeck wrote. “The hotel was a two-story cement building of rather unique design … (which) still stands today across from the present day Lodore. Local history shows it to be built around 1909 or 1910.”
The first president was Mrs. Cleo Spurrier, and over the decades, the club grew.
In 1922, the women began a broader program of community service in addition to promoting sociability. They made quilts for The Salvation Army and began talking in earnest about the need for a library in Story. That year, they held a pie social, and raised $18 for a bookcase for the first library, which was housed in the same building as the Story Post Office.
By the fall of 1930, the women were ready for a permanent home. The foundation was laid on the Story Woman’s Club in October, and after working through the winter, the facility was complete by the spring of 1931. After surviving the Depression, the women focused work on the war effort, encouraging the community to buy war bonds. They purchased two of their own for $37 in 1943. The women baked cookies for the Red Cross canteen in Sheridan, and volunteered rolling bandages in the Red Cross surgical dressing room.
Throughout the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, they held dances, plays, hosted Christmas gift exchanges and worked on their own facility. They packed cookies and paperback books to send to servicemen in Vietnam, and published a cookbook. They began their now-famous turkey dinners in 1975.
In the 1980s, the women were involved with community affairs, serving on a rural ambulance board, the Story Civic Association and the neighborhood watch. In 1995, the club received a sizable donation and renovated the building’s ceiling, floor and kitchen.
Lunbeck’s history, which ends in 1999, concludes with an anecdote:
“As an ending to this Story Woman’s Club History just a little note of interest. In the 1950’s (sic) a group of Story residents became disenchanted with the Story Woman’s Club and purchased property known as Kellys Bar. They formed an association incorporated as the Story Community Club. This organization didn’t last very long at all! The women of the Story Woman’s Club should be very proud that they have held together, for the good of the community, all these years.”
This year, the Story Woman’s Club will celebrate its 100-year anniversary with several events. Story Trade Day, a community garage sale, is June 2. The Woman’s Club will serve homemade goodies and coffee, and will be selling raffle tickets for the centennial quilt and centennial coffee cups. The centennial quilt winner will be chosen at the annual Turkey Dinner fundraiser Oct. 6.
The Story Day Committee has chosen the Woman’s Club Centennial as the theme for this year’s Story Days, which will be held in August. The women will also honor the 150-year celebration of Wyoming granting women the right to vote throughout the year.
“We’re the heart of the community,” Story Woman’s Club member Patty Hoover said. “We bring the town closer together, and whenever we have events, everyone pitches in. We spend time together, and we get to know one another. And we try very hard to bring in the new neighbors. That’s something we are really trying hard to concentrate on: Getting younger members in.”
At any given time, the club has about 60-70 members, current President Robin Lemm said. Regular business meetings are the first Thursday of each month at 1:30 p.m., excluding July. The club is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization with average expenses for utilities, insurance, maintenance and dinners at about $13,000-$14,000 per year, excluding any capital expenditures. Donations are always welcome.
“The club has been a remarkable organization for me, to work with so many different women for such a wonderful cause,” Lemm said.
Because Story is not an incorporated city, the club — both its members and the building itself — provide a critical space for meetings and information gathering and distribution. During fires and floods, emergency procedure meetings are often held at the club, which also serves as a polling place.
And members have prepared countless bereavement dinners in the kitchen.
“These women are organized,” Lemm said. “Most of the women in the Woman’s Club are retired, but I’m amazed at the talent they bring. They are ex-military, teachers, and we talk about the world … we have a woman who was a chemistry teacher, and we have all these different backgrounds, and we come together to do something good for the community.
“We would like to carry that tradition forward, of being supportive of each other and everyone in the community, though our primary focus is women and children,” Lemm said.
The roots go deep for women in Sheridan County: The great-granddaugter of the original first president, Mrs. Cleo Spurrier, was Lemm’s classmate in the Class of 1968 at Sheridan High School.
Joan Griffin, president of the Sheridan County Homemakers and lifelong Story Woman’s Club trustee, said she moved to the area 27 years ago from Georgia. She’d never heard of a woman’s club, and lived in a place where people didn’t know each other, let alone depend on one another.
“My neighbor invited me to the woman’s club, and it shocked me that in a small town there were so many women that cared about their community,” Griffin said. “When someone is sick, you’re helping out. If someone is happy, you’re happy for them.”
The Story Woman’s Club is the hub of the community, like an extended family.
“We can always turn to each other,” Griffin said. “I never had that in Georgia.”