Pictured above, from left, are longtime club members Gay (Granby) Swecker, Carol (Schroeder) Hulett, Clarice (Granby) Gaalswyk, Hope (Hulett) Johnson, Esther (Granby) Jordahl, Linda (Hulett) Michalson, Bernice (Holub) Thomson.  Following the Memorial Day service at 1 p.m., the Poplar Ladies Birthday Club will host a luncheon at Leader Community Hall.Gay Swecker prunes branches from the flowering crabapple tree at Poplar Cemetery. Swecker is a third-generation member of the Poplar Ladies Birthday Club which helps maintain the grounds at the cemetery. Her daughter, Coleen (Swecker) Bowers, is a fourth-generation member.

Poplar Ladies Birthday Club celebrates 90 years

Community service, community support are ties that bind club
“We have always been here to support each other,” Swecker said of the club members.

It’s been 90 years since a group of ladies in Poplar Township threw a surprise birthday party for Mrs. J.B. Johnson, who had been sick much of the winter.

They had so much fun that they decided to organize the Poplar Ladies Birthday Club. The purpose of the club was to socialize, offer each other support and to do service projects for their community. 

“Our club was organized with 25 charter members,” Julia Goodall, a secretary for the club during the early years, included in her minutes. She noted that Minnie Hubbard was elected as the club’s first president, Mamie Chapin as vice president and Goodall herself was the club’s first secretary/treasurer.

Their first official meeting was held at the home of Imogene Johnson. Other early committee members included Vivian Matthews, Pearl Sowers, Minnie Sowers and Gladys Granby.

Throughout these 90 years, the club’s motto, “Help one another” and the club song, “Help Somebody Today” have remained the same. In addition, the club has continued to meet on the third Thursday of each month (except during the winter for the past few years) and the annual dues have remained at 25 cents.

Goodall’s minutes describe meetings devoted to sewing and piecing together quilts, of writing letters to young men in the service and planning summer picnics for the community. The ladies made sure they were visiting the sick in their community or extending an invitation to women who had just moved to the area.

Often there was entertainment at the club meetings, as well as an educational program. One year, it was noted that a demonstration on how to make clothing out of a flour sack was given. Learning how to economize was a subject for discussion at another club meeting.

According to Goodall’s notes, most meetings ended with the singing of a hymn. Favorites seemed to be “Onward Christian Soldiers,” “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and “Let the Lower Lights be Burning.” And, of course, if there was a birthday to be celebrated, there would be a special cake served and presents for the “birthday girl.”

Gay (Granby) Swecker said she was just one-month old when her mother, Eileen Granby, brought her to her first Poplar Ladies Birthday Club meeting. She’ll turn 80 this July, Swecker shared, adding that the club has been a significant part of her life.

“We have always been here to support each other,” Swecker said of the club members.

Fellow club member Carol (Schroeder) Hulett recalled the days when the ladies would make food to bring to funerals, or sew clothing for people in need. Once, they helped the Red Cross make straw mattresses during a crisis situation.

Early on, the Poplar Ladies Birthday Club took on the responsibility of caring for the Poplar Cemetery, as well as planning the annual Memorial Day programs held there.

Through their fundraising efforts, money was raised for a number of projects, including building a tool shed for the property and a monument with the names of local service men who gave their lives during World War II.

“We used to mow the cemetery lawn ourselves,” Swecker said. “It’s gotten to be too much, so now we hire someone to do it.”

Prior to Memorial Day, the ladies spend time picking up debris on the cemetery grounds and pruning trees. “We want it to look beautiful,” Swecker said.

The service at Poplar Cemetery was THE Place to be on Memorial Day when she was growing up, Swecker recalled. “You wouldn’t think of missing it.”

She went on to share how she and her family would walk from their farm to the service. “Oh, everybody walked. Back then, there weren’t any fences around the cemetery, so there were always a lot of cows around. I remember when the firing squad would shoot, those cows would go running,” Swecker laughed.

Later on, stone pillars were made by Ole Granby and an overhead arch by Orel and Cecil Nichols. The gates were installed in 1937.

Music has always been an important part of the Memorial Day service at Poplar Cemetery. In the early days, Swecker’s mother would play a pump organ that somebody transported over with their truck. The song, “Scatter Flowers O’er the Graves” has been a tradition for decades. While it is sung (to the tune of “In the Sweet By and By”), children are invited to scatter flowers at the grave of the unknown soldier.

Although they plan the ceremony at Poplar Cemetery, the ladies birthday club members noted that the Motley American Legion has always provided a lot of assistance at the Memorial Day program. In addition to the firing squad, they provide the color guard and often the guest speaker.

Following the ceremony, the Poplar Ladies Birthday Club hosts a luncheon at the Leader Community Hall. This year, in honor of their 90th anniversary, a special cake will be served, along with sandwiches and beverages.

“We will also have a lot of historical artifacts on display for people to look at,” Swecker said.

Current club officers include Esther Jordahl, president; Hope Johnson, vice president; and Bernice Thomson, secretary/treasurer. Other club members are Lucille Sowers, Alice Granby, Delaine Achermann, Enid Nelson, Iras Chapin, Lila Granby, Marie Smith, Gay Swecker, Carol Hulett, Clarice Gaalswyk, Linda Michalson and Shirley Feakes.

Many of their members are getting older; but the ladies birthday club still hopes to be around for years to come. “It’s harder for younger people to join these days, because so many of them work outside the home,” Swecker said. “I hope we can get some more members. It’s a good club that’s done a lot of good over the years.”

And with membership dues still at 25 cents a year, how can you go wrong by joining?


Members of the Poplar Ladies Birthday Club, which celebrates its 90th anniversary this year, have been busy cleaning up the grounds at the Poplar Cemetery near Leader in preparation for Memorial Day. Since it was first organized in 1926, the club has planned the annual Memorial Day program at Poplar Cemetery, as well as helped maintain the grounds. The club’s motto is “Help One Another” and in addition to service projects at the cemetery, it has served as a social outlet and support system for several generations of area women.



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