They gathered through personal celebrations and tragedies, children’s accomplishments, wars, eras and even moments when due to a bad day, they wanted to throw things but didn’t, and forged ahead instead with activities and fundraisers, making their community better and stronger.
The Woman’s Club of Patchogue reached their 90th anniversary last year, but because of COVID, couldn’t gather for a worthy celebration.
But this year, it’s a good possibility. (Never underestimate the power or determination of a woman’s club, especially this one. Fingers crossed for the end of June.)
“Years ago, we capped the membership at 100,” said president Cathy Michel, a nurse.
“And there was a huge waiting list,” added Debbie Zampariello of East Patchogue, who compiles “Years Ago” for the Long Island Advance.
There were members whose moms had been members, including former president Zampariello and Mary-Bridget Walsh, a retired business owner from Holtsville who related that her mom belonged to a Woman’s Club in Douglaston, Queens, and suggested she join a local one.
The bonding element started stepping in.
“You feel compatible and get to know the members over the years,” said Zampariello. “Individually, maybe we can’t help a situation.”
“But as a group, we can,” said Colony Shop owner Lari Fiala, finishing Zampariello’s sentence. “And we don’t make it a secret that as members, you have to help.”
Fiala, a member since 1966 and a former president, brought a bulging folder of Woman’s Club programs, reports and newspaper clippings. The club was socially active with dress-up affairs like Mens Night, Apre Ski Cocktail Party & Dream Auction, Autumn Auction Cocktail Party at venues like Felice’s of Patchogue and Middle Island Country Club, as well as well-attended balls in the 1960s, one with gorgeous ice sculptures featured in the Suffolk Sun and a 1985 front page Advance photo of a Woman’s Club Agostinello Walkathon with Fiala as president.
The women were modest in their donation assessment. They figured it was around $12,000 last year. That included funds for scholarships to five area high school girls, (one receives a four-year scholarship; the others, one-year scholarships) and adopting three families at Christmas. But there are other efforts not tallied up. They did admit when a need was imminent, they automatically dip into their pockets without hesitation. They just do it.
“We set up a table,” said Zampariello. “It may be Eastern Farm Workers Association, Lighthouse Mission.”
“Every month our secretary submits requests to our Community Service Committee; they determine who we’ll give to,” said Michel of one of the six major committees.
“Usually at every meeting we bring something,” Fiala said.
They meet monthly at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Patchogue, although the pandemic has stopped their gatherings since November, so it’s meetings by Zoom.
Michel also sends out a newsletter to keep members informed. Their first assemblage took place in October 1930, via a bridge luncheon at the Bellport Country Club.
There are currently 65 members; their annual fundraiser supports the scholarship and community contributions and the members pitch in with their strengths. Renne Leeber created their new website, www.womansclubofpatchogue.org, which should be up and running soon.
The scholarships are presented in-person to student recipients where they meet the members, a personal reminder of what women can do as well as a confidence booster for a young person starting out.
“We’ve had mothers of scholarship girls join,” Zampariello said.
Patty Felice, who volunteers at Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts, summed up the club’s value and popularity. “It’s a woman thing,” she said. “We want to help people in the community and we have the same goals.”
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