MAPLEWOOD, NJ — In today’s age of short-lived Snapchats and disposable everything, not much lasts for a century. Startups fold, restaurants close and leaders fall from the public eye. Fame is 15 minutes long, with luck. The Woman’s Club of Maplewood, however, is another story. On Friday, Dec. 2, it celebrated 100 years of steadfast community service and lifelong fellowship with a special luncheon at the DeHart Community Center.
Among the attendees at the luncheon were Woman’s Club President Joanne Aponte, New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs President Jean Revis, Maplewood Mayor Victor DeLuca, former Maplewood Mayor Ellen Davenport, and many current club leaders and members. Also in attendance were Carol Lundquist, past president of The Woman’s Club of Upper Montclair; Anna Lauton, president of The Woman’s Club of Bloomfield; and Janet Oscar, president of the Montclair Women’s Club.
The afternoon began with lunch and lively conversation, after which Aponte approached the podium to address the celebrants.
“It’s been a long hundred years, but we got here,” she said. “We’re here! We are still here and we’re still fighting and we do wonderful work.”
Indeed, the Woman’s Club serves Maplewood and its surrounding areas in myriad ways; two of the club’s main goals include helping children in need and victims of domestic violence.
“We are very concerned with the ongoing problem of child abuse, so we are working to raise awareness of it and prevent it before it even occurs,” Revis said in an interview with the News-Record. “Joanne (Aponte) is very big on child advocacy. She takes it very seriously and works very hard on it.”
Specifically, the Woman’s Club donates toiletries, clothing and shoes to both regular shelters and domestic violence shelters in Maplewood and throughout Essex County. Members also collect and bring Christmas gifts to children at the shelters. Scholarships toward school tuition are awarded to children in Newark-area schools, to mothers breaking away from domestic violence situations and to Columbia High School students. A special knitting group within the club knits countless hats for newborns as well as blankets for hospital patients undergoing chemotherapy. The Woman’s Club also supports libraries, police departments, the Salvation Army and food pantries. Wherever there is need, the Woman’s Club assists.
This spirit of volunteerism has been central to the Woman’s Club since its founding in December 1916. The club was established as part of a growing movement of women across the country who wanted to organize themselves in order to pursue common interests and better their communities. Women were leaving their homes, assuming larger roles in society and taking on civic responsibilities.
During its early years, the Woman’s Club assisted the Red Cross and was actively involved in supporting the country during World War I. In 1923, the 700-plus club members established the Vaux Hall Baby Clinic, with 102 babies on the visiting list by the following year.
In 1927, a new location provided more space for the baby clinic as well as space for girls’ club meetings, a food pantry and a thrift store. The next year, the club decided to move forward with construction of a brand new home for their activities and meetings. Designed by noted architect Clifford C. Wendehack and funded entirely by the Woman’s Club, the new clubhouse at 60 Woodland Road — now known as “The Woodland” — opened in 1930. It allowed the Woman’s Club to expand its role even further. Theater performances, concerts, speeches, dances, fundraisers, meetings, weddings, lessons and more were held there until the sale of the property to the township of Maplewood in 2014. Although no longer owned by the Woman’s Club, the building continues to represent the spirit of community service and fellowship that is at the heart of the club to this day.
That spirit of community involvement and fellowship was apparent Dec. 2, as the club’s current 30 members celebrated its centennial.
“They’ve been my family for 44 years,” Aponte said of her peers in an interview with the News-Record. “This is my life.”
“These ladies have been friends forever, and that’s what I think holds the group together,” said Pat D’Angelo, a member of the Evening Membership Department, which was formed in 1963 to accommodate the growing number of women joining the workforce.
But perhaps the spirit of the Woman’s Club was summed up best by Marilyn Schnaars, a 55-year veteran of the club, who said, “I really enjoy doing things to help other people, and I really enjoy the girls.”
Photos by Cynthia Burks