Daytime meetings just weren’t working.
Ann Ricart, a founding member of the Ruthfred Acres Women’s Club, and a few friends struggled to juggle daytime Bethel Woman’s Club meetings with the responsibilities of a young mother.
So in 1947 they formed their own club, a group of women from the Bethel Park community in Ruthfred Acres who met in members’ playrooms after putting their children to bed for the night.
Nearly 50 local ladies joined the Ruthfred Acres Women’s Club that first year, during which members planned and carried out community service projects – including purchasing and cataloging books for the Fred C. Brown Memorial Library – and came together to learn from local speakers.
This year the club celebrates 75 years of service and friendship.
“I didn’t think we would ever get this far,” said Pat Moore, a Ruthfred Acres member of 51 years and club president. “We’re just proud that our club has been able to stay a club for 75 years. We’ve had years where that was questionable. I’ve seen other clubs go under, and we’re actually gaining members, so I’m happy.”
Moore said that when women ventured back into the workforce in the 1970s, membership dropped to an all-time high: 20 members. Sometimes only 12 or 13 women would arrive at a local park for meetings. Since then, the club has grown steadily, now boasting nearly 40 retired teachers and career women, PhDs and service-oriented women who support each other and their communities.
“We have a wonderful club,” Moore said, adding that when she joined the club was made up of stay-at-home moms looking for camaraderie and ways to make a difference. “We have people at our club in Green Tree, Upper St. Clair, Peters. We’re scattered around the South Hills. We have a lot of fun. I think what unites us more than anything is that our ladies love really give. They like to help the community. It’s important to them.
Since the club’s inception, Ruthfred Acres has donated to Mother’s March for Polio, the former Mayview State Hospital and Western Center; the Pampers Roses and the Laotian Refugees; local libraries and arts organizations; the United Fund and the Bethel Park Fire Department – and the list goes on. The organization has also sponsored local Girl Scout troupes and provided scholarships to high school graduates.
Last year, the Ruthfred Acres donated $300 to the Bethel Park Historical Society, purchased 20 wreaths for Wreaths Across America and collected items for 60 area homeless people.
On April 12, Moore presented a check for $2,000 to Seth Dubin, director of development for the South Hills Interfaith Movement. Ruthfred Acres was able to donate an additional $200 to SHIM, thanks to the generosity of the community and its Ruthfred Acres members.
“Their desire to help out in the community, and not just in Bethel Park but even outside…with so many different charities and even getting out and doing physical work—it’s amazing,” Moore said.
While the organization prioritizes community service, women also value education and friendship. Each year, the club invites guest speakers to speak on a variety of topics, including climate change, the history of paper cutting — “It was really interesting,” Moore said — and self-protection in a technology-driven world.
After Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Ruthfred Acres invited Cyril Wecht to present his findings on the case. They also enjoyed entertainment from the Vintage Radio Players, a Pleasant Hills-based group that presents old radio shows like “The Shadow.”
“We’re trying to get the health, the history, the exercise. I’ve probably heard every speaker on the circuit,” Moore said with a laugh. “I wouldn’t have had the experiences I’ve had with the club, the programs we have. They just make your life healthier. Just the camaraderie and the friends I’ve made over the years working with women who really cared about other people. I think I grew up a lot.
And seen a lot. The club often ventures on excursions to local sites like Fallingwater, the Johnstown Flood Memorial Site and the Little Lake Theatre.
“We went to Shanksville. We did house tours,” Moore said. “Veronica (Kochinski, program co-chair), she’s always led (the trips). She’s just full of energy.”
At the moment, the club is pouring its energy into planning a 75th anniversary gala on May 10 at the Schoolhouse Arts Center in Bethel Park, with whose board the club has a wonderful relationship. The anniversary celebration begins with appetizers and toasts, followed by recognition of past presidents and a skit chronicling the club’s rich history.
The event is open to members only, including the five new women joining Ruthfred Acres. Moore said COVID has made it difficult to spread information about the organization, but she hopes to welcome more service-oriented women into the organization.
“COVID affected us. We were making plans and canceling them,” Moore said, noting that regular meetings resumed last September. “We didn’t spend any money and now we have money for our anniversary. It was the silver lining.”
When the metaphorical glitter settles on the celebration of nearly a century of existence, the women of Ruthfred Acres will get to work, planning their next community service project, hosting speakers and hanging out with friends.
“You look for opportunities to help, and on your own, sometimes it’s just about giving money. It’s different, it’s personal. You’re inspired. When you see (others members) wanting to do, it inspires you to do more, too,” Moore said.
“I think young women today who aren’t involved in these kinds of things are very much missed. Your whole life isn’t just about being home with your kids and your husband. It’s hanging out with friends, being educated, having fun, having the chance to help others. It was a growing experience for me. It’s so important, when you get to my age, to have all those people around you to support you. I’m 81 and I have so many friends. I can’t wait to be able to be active and play a role and make a difference with people in my community.”