Group celebrates its roots, 80th anniversary
By JoAnn Jones
Lena Showman of Coitsville Township remembers the days when the Coitsville Garden Club meetings were very proper and the club had a waiting list to join.
“Things were very formal at the onset,” the nonagenarian said. “We wore hats and gloves. Every spring, each of us would get a new hat. We were always the best dressed.”
“We even used our husbands’ last names and, actually, lost our identity,” she said.
The club, whose membership now numbers only 10 instead of the maximum 25, celebrated its 80th anniversary this year. Showman has been a member for 61 of those years.
“We set the maximum number of members at 25 because we figured that was the average a house could hold,” she added. “Years ago, we had a waiting list.”
Showman, fiercely proud of her Coitsville Township roots, said the club was very active and well-known. She pointed out the extensive number of photos and newspaper articles that the club has collected over the years.
“The club is not meant for gardeners, though,” she added. “Arranging is what the members do. I’m the only active gardener.”
Marlene McDowall, the club’s president for the past 15 years and hostess of the group’s August meeting, said many of the women involved now are second-generation club members.
“I think a lot of us joined because our mothers did,” she said. “My mother was in the club 45 years, and I used to go when I was small. Five or six of us also went to school together.” McDowall’s daughter Wendy Noble is the youngest member of the club.
“She has vision when arranging flowers,” McDowall said of her daughter, who manages Wild-Flower Cove Inc. in Boardman.
“If you tell me something, I can see it,” said Noble, slightly embarrassed by her mother’s praise.
“A lot of the women in our club live out in the suburbs now,” McDowall, a township resident, said, “and they all ride together to the meetings.”
McDowall said the club meets on the third Thursday monthly except in June and July, and the August meeting is always a picnic at her house. Club members usually host the meetings, but sometimes the women go to a restaurant or other venues.
“We went to Youngstown’s Main Library to learn how to use computers to do research,” she said. “We’ve been to the Lutz Greenhouse and made wreaths at the Wild-Flower Cove. “We also have a Christmas party in December and an anniversary dinner every January at the Holiday Inn [in Boardman].”
“At the anniversary dinner, we go through all our memorabilia,” McDowall said. The memorabilia includes scrapbooks of Vindicator photos and articles about charter members who founded the club, as well as the club’s activities over the years.
Anne Bunofsky, a 40-year member from Coitsville Township, said the club used to do garden shows but doesn’t anymore.
“We do our civic planting by planting flowers at the Coitsville Fire Station annually,” Bunofsky said. “It’s one of our little projects.”
Bunofsky added that each woman has contributed to the club by taking on officer responsibilities.
“We all took turn being president,” she said.
“Do I have a title now?” she asked McDowall with a smile.
Sue Boyd, who grew up in Coitsville Township but now lives in Boardman, is the newest member of the group, although she’s been with the group for 12 years.
“I’m the telephone lady,” she said. “I do all the phoning to the members.”
McDowall was quick to add that Boyd’s grandmother was the group’s first president in 1932-33.
Geraldine Sopkovich also grew up in the township but now lives on the South Side of Youngstown.
“I grew up on a small farm,” she said. “My sister-in-law joined and asked me to, since I like to grow flowers. Now I’m the secretary and do all the minutes and correspondence.”
“I like that we go to different places,” Sopkovich added. “We’ve been to White House Farms and Adamas, and visited the gardens and had lunch at Mill Creek Park. Once a year, we auction our baked goods and vegetables that some of us grow.”
The camaraderie, along with all the different places the women visit, have helped to keep the club intact for 80 years.
“For me, it’s the friendships and visiting one another’s homes over the years,” said Renee Burrows of Coitsville Township. “Lena [Showman] introduced me to the club when I retired from General Motors. She thought I needed something to do.”
“There are such a few of us left,” McDowall said, “but everybody wants to be involved. It’s a club decision.”