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Tarentum Book Club observes anniversary

The first published installment of the Tarentum Book Club’s history begins with the following words:

‘The beginning is half the whole and we all praise a good beginning.’

That installment, published by the Valley Daily News, was written on Feb. 5, 1901.

Apparently, the club had a very good beginning and deserves all the praise it can get.

On Friday, more than 100 years after the women’s club was founded, the members celebrated their anniversary in grand style.

To recapture the formality of bygone years, members, former members and guests were asked to come dressed for a traditional garden party.

The women complied. Although the club stopped requiring hats and gloves at meetings in the 1960s, these modern women were more than happy to relive the past for a few hours. Vintage dresses were aired out, elegant hats were donned, and their grandmothers’ shawls, gloves, and hankies were brought back.

The women met at the Natrona Heights home of Margot Johnson, the club’s president. Johnson recently had her garden landscaped, adding a waterfall, fish pond and a rock garden.

The grounds provided a timeless atmosphere for the event.

While the women ate lunch and reminisced, a friend of Johnson’s modeled antique hats, many of which once belonged to former member Helen Sefton Knight. The hats, which are now part of a private collection, were vintage 1850 to 1960.

Johnson saw the hats on display at a local church. ‘I thought at the time they would provide a great program for a fund-raiser or special event,’ Johnson said.

During the afternoon, mementos and bits of club history were passed around.

Newspaper clippings dating back to 1909 of the club’s history and meetings were added to the scrapbooks. Club yearbooks from as far back as 1912 were reviewed. And the old black and white photographs, many of which appeared in the Valley News Dispatch and the earlier Valley Daily News, drew chuckles.

‘When the club started, the ladies and their families helped found this community,’ said Gladys Harkless, who has been a member since the mid-1980s.

‘Going back through the club’s history is fascinating – it’s a microcosm of the Valley’s history,’ Harkless added.

The club holds meetings every month in the home of one of its 32 members, Johnson said. But members don’t just review books. As stated in the club’s constitution, the club was created ‘To bring women together that are interested in Literature and Science, for the purpose of mental culture.’

‘We aren’t just a book club,’ Johnson said. ‘We provide intellectual stimulation for our members.’

The club also has frequent trips and programs. The members have traveled to theaters in Pittsburgh, to Hartwood Acres for Christmas light displays and other activities, and to the observatory at Deer Lakes Park.

Edna Jones, who has been a member the longest – since 1956 – recalled programs held on the Gateway Clipper and at area country clubs.

Over the years the club has donated money and services to the area. Probably the most recognizable contribution is the statue of the goddess Hebe, which stands in the Ross Street triangle garden beside the Tarentum Bridge.

The money for the statue was raised in 1911, and for many years Hebe could be found in a fountain at Tarentum’s Riverview Memorial Park. In the 1990s the statue was restored and moved to its current location.

The members pointed to the uniqueness of the women involved as the main reason why the club has managed to survive for so long.

‘We are a very close-knit group of people, but we are all very different. Everyone provides interesting but unique topics for discussion,’ Harkless said.

‘We are all individuals,’ Jones added.




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