As the 20th century entered its final decade, eight local members of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs celebrated the 100th anniversary of the international women’s organization in the Big Apple.

Among those attending that milestone celebration was Beverly Shelton, who attached herself to the service organization in 1952 and hasn’t let go in her efforts to support GFWC’s mission of “community improvement by enhancing the lives of others through volunteer service.”

“In addition to my family, GFWC is the best thing that has ever happened to me,” says the 90-year-old Independence resident, who served a two-year term (1984-86) as Missouri GFWC president. She also started the Beverly Shelton Girls Town Club in 1972 and received the coveted Jenny Jen Award in 2010 at the international convention in Omaha, Neb.

“So far, I am the only one in Missouri to have won it,” she says proudly, noting it bears the name of the GFWC founder and is the only individual award presented by the Federation.

Says Beverly, “The award signifies my outstanding work, not only as a club member, but for family and community. It’s also for (Jenny’s) attributes.”

Twenty-five years have elapsed since the centennial gala in New York. Now, the Federation is celebrating its 125th anniversary.

Prior to the culmination of the annual convention in Memphis, Tennessee, June 13-15, Missouri GFWC kicked off the 125th celebration with two events: Legislative Day at the State Capitol in Jefferson City on April 24, followed by the annual state convention in Springfield, April 30-May 2.

At Legislative Day, which also coincided with the Sophomore Pilgrimage “We were updated by three (House) representatives, introduced on the House floor and presented a House resolution,” says Kathy Palermo, Missouri GFWC president. ... Then we went around to all the 29 women legislators in the Capitol and presented to them information about GFWC and its 125th anniversary and all the important things our organization has done.

Among them:

n 1916 – Helped to establish National Park Service.

n 1942 – GFWC’s “Buy a Bomber” campaign generated funds to purchase 431 airplanes.

n 2002 – Raised more than $12.5 million for public libraries.

n 2004 – Contributed $180,000 for an ambulance for New York Fire Department after 9/11.

n 2011 – Haiti Disaster Relief Fund raised more than $55,000 following 2010 earthquake.

At the state convention, highlights included the recognition of the 12 past state presidents in attendance, including Shelton, the second oldest in attendance.

When the 125th annual convention convenes in Memphis, expect Beverly and Kathy to be there. Of the eight local attendees at the centennial celebration in 1990, Beverly is the only one attending this year. Five others are deceased.

Beverly says she is attending against her son’s wishes.

“Mom, I don’t think you should go,” she recalls him urging.

“I am going,” she replied. “And guess what? He’s driving down there, and I have the feeling he’s going because I am going. Of course, his wife (Ruth Shelton) is a very active member. She is state recording secretary.”

As state president, Kathy will present a $450 check to the international president on behalf of the 88 Missouri clubs. This check and 49 others will be presented to St. Jude’s Hospital, which is across the street from the convention center.

Kathy, a Lee’s Summit resident and 34-year member of GFWC, says she also was asked to get a proclamation from Gov. Jay Nixon proclaiming April 24 as GFWC Day in Missouri.

All state presidents are to take their proclamations to the state convention. There, all 50 proclamations will be on display.

“That will be interesting,” Kathy says, as will Saturday’s special luncheon focusing on the past. “So they have asked clubs all over the world to send in pictures from the past so they can highlight them during the luncheon with a video presentation.”

For Kathy, nothing is more impressive than the procession of flags at the opening session of an international convention, when all state presidents walk in preceded by their president-elect and state flag.

“Then all of our international delegates from other countries will also march in with their flags. It’s very impressive to see all those flags from all over the world.”

Since “service” is the driving force of GFWC, convention delegates arriving before the opening session in Memphis can volunteer their services at one of the longest running, continuous soup kitchens in the United States.

“So some of the women are going to work in the soup kitchen, Kathy says, noting the convention doesn’t officially start until Saturday morning.

What is it about the state and national conventions that turn Kathy and Beverly on?

They say it’s the opportunity to hear motivational speakers, to meet women from different states and countries and to share ideas about what service projects they have undertaken.

Kathy admits she borrowed one of this year’s service projects – that of collecting and recycling Scotch tape dispensers – from an Oklahoma woman.

“When you use up the dispenser and the spool ... we mail them back to (3-M) and they pay us a penny a piece,” Kathy explains. “That money goes into our state scholarship fund.”

As for the most important thing GFWC of Missouri has done, Beverly Shelton will tell you: starting Girls Town, a 22-acre residential treatment facility for abused and neglected girls.

For more information about General Federation of Women’s Clubs, call Kathy at 816-373-6821 or Beverly at 816-373-0573.


Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.