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COAST, CENTRAL, AND NORTHWEST CITIES : BUENA PARK

Volunteer's Hometown Is Where Her Heart Is

Buena Park Women's Club's oldest and longest-term member has been part of much of the group's community work.

March 24, 2000|ANA CHOLO-TIPTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It started in a farm area with a small group of women more than a hundred years ago. They had gathered to sew for a family that had just lost their home to a fire. But even at that informal meeting on March 9, 1889, notes were kept and, since then, treasured.

Long before the city became incorporated, the members of the Buena Park Women's Club were making an impact on their community.

Their most famous accomplishments include starting the library district (1919), organizing their husbands, sons and friends into the volunteer fire department (1915), getting the first electric street lights in town (1910) and canvassing neighborhoods to get support for cityhood (1953). In later years, the members helped Navajo children get a taste of life outside their California desert reservation and invited them into their homes. More recently, they sponsored a mini-career day, with speakers, for students.

Of course, there have been the bake sales, fashion shows, fall harvest festivals and rummage sales, all organized to raise money for whatever is needed in the community.

A couple of weeks ago, the 22 members of the club celebrated their 111th anniversary, and unofficial club historian Donna Bagley celebrated her 88th birthday the following day. She has the honor of being the oldest and longest-running member of the club and remembers that when she joined in 1949, the person who held the position she holds now had been a member since 1901.

If she were to list the most important things in her life, the club--her fellow members, the work they do in the community and the 1931 Spanish Revival clubhouse, one of Buena Park's oldest buildings--come a close second to her husband, Wallace, her son and four grandchildren.

The service club, which still has a firm place in the community, was once the center of the town's activities. When a new movie came to town, there were no 26-screen mega-theaters as now. Instead, films were shown at the clubhouse.

Bagley and her husband were the first to move into their neighborhood in 1948 when fields and fruit trees were abundant. Bagley said it was her husband who persuaded her to join the club on Beach Boulevard near City Hall. They had attended a program at the club in which a state politician was discussing the pros and cons of each proposition on the 1948 ballot.

"On the way home, he said he thought I should join the club and that it would be good for me," she said, her lively blue eyes twinkling with amusement.

But times have changed and the youngest woman in the Buena Park Women's Club is President Colleen Hare, 52. Bagley said "new blood" is needed to give back to the community and for women who join, they will gain "friendships that will last them the years."

Hare is confident that the club will continue to play an important role in town. When she is around the other women, most old enough to be her mother, she said, "there's a lot of history just from listening to the other club members' viewpoints." Several weeks ago, when the local library was in need of money to repair water damage to its basement, the club, which belongs to the California Federation of Women's Clubs, pitched in to help raise money.

On Saturday, they will hold a fashion show for mature women and a luncheon. But this time, members say, the proceeds will go to themselves. Bagley says they need new carpet and the floor is showing its age.

Ana Cholo-Tipton can be reached at (714) 966-5890.

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