Lenoir Service League marks 70 years of service, with a side of fun

May. 11, 2013 @ 09:49 PM

Looking over the list of community projects started or given a boost by the Lenoir Service League during its 70 years of existence, you can’t help thinking that Lenoir would look quite a bit different without it.

The total amount the group has raised comes to more than $2 million, funding everything from large projects ($5,000 for the initial fund to build a public library, $37,000 to start the Shelter Home for victims of domestic violence, and $198,000 to help build an in-patient hospice facility, to name just three) to small ones (in May 1947, the league helped a family buy a cow).

Members who gathered Saturday at Cedar Rock Country Club for a luncheon to celebrate the league’s 70th anniversary said they take great pride not only in the projects they either started or helped sustain but in fostering a sense of community spirit.

“It’s not only the money raised,” said Allene Stevens, who joined the league in 1948, “the young women who come in, … it’s like they’re in training for community service” and sometimes move on to leadership roles elsewhere.

Barbara Weiller said the members are an inspiring group. "Every one of them will dig deep and work hard."

The league was founded in 1943, but it has its roots in the Lenoir Junior Woman’s Club, which was started in 1939 by Lillian Bernhardt. In a video documenting the league’s history, Stevens talked about how the young women at the time sought an outlet for working in the community.

“We (Lenoir) had a Woman’s Club, but the members of the Woman’s Club were our mothers, and we didn’t want to do it,” she said.

In the old photos of the league’s activities, particularly the variety shows it put on several times as fundraising events, you see young women cutting up and doing high-kicking dance routines in skirts. Around the dining room at Cedar Rock, some of the same women laughed at themselves, and younger women such as Tammy Holloway, who just joined in January, saw in the photos things for them to aspire toward.

The league’s 60 members meet monthly and volunteer time throughout the year to work in the Lenoir Service League Thrift shop at 906 West Ave. downtown (open 9-5 Thursdays and Fridays, and 9-1 Saturdays). Each year the league provides a total of $15,000 to $20,000 to 15 local nonprofit groups, provides five $1,000 scholarships to promising young women, and provides about $3,000 through its Children’s Emergency Fund for services for school-age children.

Ask Joyce Lawing, a former president, what she is most proud of, and the first thing she mentions will be the $2 million and counting that the group has put into community projects. The second thing will be the variety shows.

It’s not formally stated, but those two answers form a central theme of the group’s work: You can do good for the community and have fun at the same time.