Throughout my years running Camp Hollis I was privileged to work with many wonderful organizations and businesses that supported the Oswego County camp. When my career shifted to writing, I visited some of those same groups, this time to provide them with a presentation on local history. Recently, I was invited to a Women’s Club of Fulton luncheon and as I listened to reports of their community-minded work, I became curious how the group was founded. Once I started researching, I learned a lot!
Past Women’s Club President Carmella Demperio shared the Club’s early history with me, pointing out how much our world has changed since the group formed in 1946. “Our club was first known as the Women’s Club of the Chamber of Commerce,” Carm explained. “At the time, Fulton’s Chamber was made up of just men in the business community and at their January 1946 dinner meeting, members’ spouses were invited. The idea to form a women’s group was discussed.”
By the end of that month, 75 women pledged to join the new club, with members signing their name as “Mrs. Edward Smith” or “Miss Jones,” identifying themselves by their husband or father. Dues of $1.00 were collected and a discussion commenced on having a Valentine’s Day party for preschool children. There was also talk of holding card parties and a social tea.
Before long, those types of events weren’t all that the Women’s Club members discussed. Thanks to the Fulton Historical Society, I was able to review the Club’s archives, including its constitution, which listed three concerns the group focused on: educational, civic and philanthropic. A 1951 newspaper article covered how the Club addressed those issues, beginning each meeting with a segment called “Know Your Fulton Better.” In addition, “the group is considering the problems of juvenile delinquency, betterment of public health, prevention of disease, and educational and social problems.…[They] also participated in a Syracuse University study of 1,000 Fulton students.”
To learn more about the Club I talked with members Carol Dexter and her mom, Bobby Dexter. Bobby is currently the woman who has been involved with the group the longest, beginning in 1950. “I joined when a friend of mine, Jeannette Demenkoff, suggested we attend a meeting,” Bobby recalled. “We met on the second floor of the Chamber of Commerce office building on South First Street.”
Bobby would have been involved with the club’s 1951 decision to join the nationwide effort “Crusade For Freedom,” which, according to its mission, attempted to “bring truth to people behind the Iron Curtain.” But over the years, the Club has focused most of its efforts on local issues, often spearheading major fundraisers like charity balls and bazaars. When Fulton united to build a new hospital, the Women’s Club became a major contributor to the Cracker Barrel Fair. “We sponsored the Pie & Coffee Booth,” Carol mentioned, “pledging to raise money over several years for the hospital’s construction.”
During those years Carol helped collect the money the Club raised at the Fair, which led to her becoming its Treasurer, a position she’s held since 2008. She showed me a binder of their financial records and explained that the Club budgets each year to support groups that serve Fultonians. “Where there’s a need, we try to fill it,” she said. Here’s a partial list of organizations which annually have been recipients of the Club’s generosity: Friends of Fulton History, the Fulton Library, the Salvation Army, the YMCA, Fulton schools, and city projects like Lake Neatahwanta’s restoration. Over two dozen such organizations were supported in 2018.
One of the premiere examples of the Women’s Club’s support is its college scholarship program, now in its 40th year. The Club provides a Fulton high school senior who is attending a two-year college with a two-year scholarship. I asked a few recipients what the Club’s support meant to them.
“The scholarship supported my dream of going into law enforcement,” said Jeff Grimshaw, a 1976 recipient. “I lived the dream of a 23-year career that got me into the FBI National Academy and the top rank of Lieutenant at the Oswego County Sheriff’s Department. I always considered it an honor to receive that scholarship.”
“The Women’s Club scholarship investment boosted my belief in myself,” 1970 recipient Roberta (Robin) Frawley Christenson commented. “I recently retired from a long, gratifying career in non-profit leadership. Paying it forward, I am active in the Woman’s Club of Albany, which awards scholarships to college-bound kids. Thank you, Women’s Club of Fulton.”
The Club continues to find meaningful ways to support our community. When a Club member arrived at Camp Hollis each year with boxes of arts & crafts and sports supplies (and a check to cover other expenses), I knew they’d researched what it took to run a summer camp. After I wrote a book about the Oswego County Search & Rescue Team, the Club invited me to give a talk about the group. A few members of the team attended and after my talk, a Club member asked what sorts of supplies the team needed. They mentioned items like flashlight batteries and compasses. Soon after, I learned that the Women’s Club had submitted their decorated Christmas tree for the Fulton Historical Society’s Parade of Trees. Adorned with necessary items for the Search Team’s work, the women later donated those important decorations to the team.
Monthly meeting after monthly meeting, the Women’s Club hosts many organizations working to better our city and surrounding areas. Carol mentioned a recent presentation about the Block Builders neighborhood initiative and another on Civil Air Patrol. In the Club’s paperwork, I read about a presentation on local Civil War hero Dr. Mary Walker. How far the Women’s Club of Fulton has come, from a time when women were only known by their husband’s name, to today, when the club honors women making their own history.