Thirty-five Years in Review:
A Personal History of AAUW Northville-Novi
As remembered by Nanci J. Olgren
It was a cold black night in the winter of 1974. Five women bundled in heavy winter coats gathered under the faint beam of a street light on a lonely street in Northville, Michigan. Snowflakes whirled and danced as the women one by one quickly slipped into a waiting car. They accelerated up and down the hills, wove in and out of traffic, and eventually arrived at West Junior High School in Plymouth, Michigan. Disengaging from their automobile they quietly walked through deserted hollow hallways of the school into a bright gymnasium. There they joined a large group of women all interested in the same ideas, the same philosophy, and the same desire to do more with their lives while working for the advancement of all women.
Well, perhaps the scene wasn’t that clandestine, but it did happen on a monthly basis and it was a prelude to how the American Association of University Women Northville- Novi Branch got its start. The women mentioned above could have been any of the following: Joan Barber, Lucia Danes, Shelia Norgren, Penny Nuechterlein, Nanci Olgren, Karen Van Hine, or Karel Whitaker. All attended Plymouth’s AAUW Branch meetings in 1973/74. However, the trek to Plymouth became unnecessary when Karel Whitaker, with the help of Penny Nuechterlein and AAUW state officer Karen Van Hine took the initiative to understand the procedure of how to charter a new AAUW branch.
In the summer of 1975 there were eleven articles printed in the Northville Record– Novi News calling all eligible women to organizational meetings for a new AAUW branch in Northville. On September 24, 1975 at the brand new home of Penny Nuechterlein, 55 area women signed a 20” X 36” piece of parchment paper and became charter members of the Northville AAUW. ( Novi was not included in our title until 1991.) It was decided we would meet the second Tuesday evening for monthly meetings and the yearly dues would be $15. New officers were: Karel Whitaker, president; Nanci Olgren, first vice president for program; Judy Bloomquist, second vice president for membership; Penny Neuchterlein, secretary; and Dottie Segowski, treasurer. The initial October meeting’s speaker was Oakland County Prosecutor, L. Brooks Patterson who spoke on Michigan’s probation and parole practices. The meeting was held at Mill Race New School Church. We were off to a good start.
Dressed in our polyester knit pants suits, the first year we used the Northville High School cafeteria to accommodate the 65 members of our group. With 50 or so of our members in attendance, our study groups often hosted the early meetings. The meetings were creative, provocative, and provided topics of current interest. Fireside chats, get acquainted membership luncheons, and educational programs were the order of the day. We cooperated with other groups, sponsored several candidates’ nights with the League of Women Voters, helped the AAUW Plymouth Branch present their children’s play in Northville, and studied the Equal Rights Amemdment.
The May 5, 1976 Northville Record labeled us, “…not the gloves-and-tea drinkers of the 1950’s. They’re the realistic wives of the 1970’s.” The article was referring to our shop-smart 40 member food co-op where members paid $4.25 for a large bag of fresh produce. Several members with a large van made the journey each month to Eastern Market in Detroit for the fruits, vegetables, and other nutritious items.
With Gerald Ford as president and the Bicentennial in progress, we collaborated with Schoolcraft College Women’s Resource Center and hosted a workshop for foreign newcomers to assimilate them to our culture and for us to learn about their culture. All of our meetings were well attended especially the panel discussion when women from the metropolitan area representing Jewish, Black, Catholic and White areas of society came to talk about racism and religious prejudice. Another meeting sponsored a public forum concerning shared services for the City of Northville, Northville Township, and City of Novi. In the interim, AAUW Michigan supported a women’s right to choose, provided inspiration and skills for entering public life, and actively supported the “bottle bill.”
In 1977, Jane Rodgers became our president and so began our “Make It, Bake It, Sew It, Grow It” fund raiser auction. We made pillows, baskets, wreaths, breads, jams, and just about every craft item imaginable. Proceeds went to the Educational Foundation Program that provided funds to advance education, research, and self-development for women. The fund raiser was later sighted in 1979 by national AAUW as “unique.” It was also in 1979 that we added, “Do It” to the title. This provided a bevy of services to be auctioned such as baby-sitting, cooking lessons, and wall papering. Local merchants gave donations which helped the fund-raising effort.
In the early years AAUW National submitted two or three topics to us and then we formed our study groups. One of the most memorable monthly programs was presented by the 1977 “Economic Facts of Life: Living with Less” study group. A dinner meeting was announced; however, when dinner was served just one of every three diners was served beef stroganoff on rice with a salad and roll. The next diner received just rice and the third diner nothing except a roll. People were not happy. It was quickly determined that we needed to share and after dinner a spirited discussion followed regarding world hunger.
Kathy Klem moved into the presidency in 1978 and Kathy Crossman followed her in 1979. Our first used book sale was at Twelve Oaks Mall in 1978 and thereafter continued to be a fund raiser at the Northville Garage Sale Days until 1989. The 1978 monies allowed us to contribute $700, or $11.29 per member, for a National AAUW program named Project Renew. The funding helped AAUW members who had been out of work for at least five years to continue their education. Our branch received special recognition from the National AAUW for our contribution.
Margaret Thatcher was elected first Prime Minister in Europe while our branch was under the leadership of Jay Ward from 1980 to 1985. It was in 1980 that the first scholarship of $300 was awarded to Linda Burton who was registered at Schoolcraft College. In 1982 the scholarship fund was named the Janice Hobart Memorial Scholarship Fund. Janice, a charter member and a member of our executive board, worked with enthusiasm and contributed many hours of effort for AAUW until her untimely death. In future years local scholarships were awarded to high school seniors with the first male recipient being Joel Visnyak in 1984. Years later we found the career path of our winners would include dentist, lawyer, biotech researcher, CPA, mechanical engineer in design, plus, elementary teachers. In 1993 the local funding was changed to present monies to Schoolcraft Community College Women’s Resource Center and Oakland Community College Women’s Center.
Some things never change. Thirty-five years ago at the AAUW Annual State meeting in Albion, we were told our branches would face these problems: lack of monetary resources, women returning to the work force/school, and gasoline conservation. Aptly, our study groups in 1980 were “Facing Change” and “Managing Resources for Tomorrow.” Issues discussed at the 1980 Legislative Day were Juvenile Code Revision, mass transit, Title IX and equal pay for equal work.
Northville Mayor, Paul Vernon, proclaimed March 14-20, 1982 as AAUW Week and congratulated our branch’s scholarship funding for local students in need of educational funding. Just finishing the celebration of the 100-year anniversary of AAUW in Boston, the association announced that the AAUW educational awards and grants were the largest in the country in support of women. Meanwhile, our 1982 “Make It, Bake It, Sew It, Grow It, and Do It” auction made $1240 with $500 going to national scholarships and $500 to a student from Northville.
Our first Education Foundation Banquet was held May 1982 at Genetti’s Hole in the Wall restaurant. Dramatic and interpretive readings by Mary Freydl’s ninth grade students from Cook Middle School provided our entertainment. Our new study groups for the next year were titled, “Money Talks” and “Taking Hold of Technology.” The “Up Tick” investment club was born from the “Money Talks” study group.
Christmas gifts were easy to purchase in 1983. Northville AAUW purchased 600 games of “Northville” and while some of the top-selling commercial gifts that year were Rockwell Collector Plates, we thought everyone needed our special game. Similar to Monopoly the $10 game allowed participants to land on a square featuring local merchants’ logos. Proceeds were earmarked for scholarships and the games that didn’t sell were passed to each succeeding presidents’ basement. A few games are still to be found around Northville today and represent a true collector’s item.
While some members worked on sales of the Northville game others were busy developing an 1873 curriculum for the Mill Race Historical Village Wash Oak Schoolhouse – a curriculum that we updated in 1988 and is still in use today for visiting classrooms studying the 1873 era. The written guide gives preparation materials for the teacher and students prior to the visit as well as activities and reading to be used on the day of the actual visit to the Village.
When Ronald Reagan occupied the White House, our branch was honored to have the first of two Northville-Novi members as a Michigan State Division president. Harriet Sawyer was installed as Division president in 1983 at Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids. During Harriet’s tenure, 1983-85, the Association implemented “Issues” rather than topic studies. Issues were more focused than the two-year topic study and could go on indefinitely. The first two Issues were “Peace and National Security” and “Empowering Women: Achieving Change through Advocacy Networks.” We were asked not only to study, but also to have an action outcome in mind. Harriet was also honored ten years later in May 1993, when she was given the prestigious Liz Kummer Award at the state’s 71st annual meeting. It is awarded to those who have advanced the goals and ideals of AAUW in an exceptional and significant manner.
When Wilma Mankiller became chief of the of the Cherokee Nation, the first time in tribal history a woman held that position, the Northville Branch was celebrating its tenth anniversary in style. May 14, 1985, at Meadowbrook Country Club, we paid $15.50 for dinner and reflection on our members’ accomplishments for the past ten years. Members, former members and presidents returned to celebrate the tenth anniversary founding of the Northville AAUW Branch. Nanci Olgren was sworn in as president with our membership dues being $33 a year.
In 1985 our national organization had 190,000 members. Our branch membership in May 1985 was 71 members. The year’s two issues were, “Women’s Work/Women’s Worth and “Public Support for Public Education.” We studied legislative issues such as health, equity, and leadership development. Many of our programs were based on public education, tax laws, and service to our community. With so many women returning to work or school, we were advised to combine with other groups to sponsor our activities.
In the mid-eighties a “Great Decisions” group was started. The women met monthly at members’ homes for informed non-partisan discussion of world issues. In addition, a Leadership Skills group and a Book Study group were formed. Book discussions focused on fiction and nonfiction books with an emphasis on women. Along with intellectual growth we also had fun. A new gourmet group was created and we continued our usual festive Christmas gatherings at members’ homes.
In 1987, Jean Hansen took the gavel and became our seventh president. Among other accomplishments Jean will always be remembered as the president who relieved us from the “Make It, Bake It, Sew It, Grow It, and Do It” auction. The auction served its purpose and most of us were sure happy to see it go. In its place evolved a wine and cheese benefit performance at the Marquis Theater. “Harvey”, Shenandoah”, Desert Song”, and “An Evening with Gilbert and Sullivan”, are a few of the memorable plays that were presented over the next seven years. Along with the duties of president, Jean received the distinguished “Agent of Change Award” in Education from the AAUW Michigan Division. Renee Boving followed suit in 1999 receiving the “Agent of Change Award” in International Affairs at Midland, MI. Both women were recognized as individuals who moved women’s issues forward and helped promote equity and advancement for women, education and self-development over the life span.
The September 8th, 1988, Northville Record reported that we had, “…..an active book discussion group, a ‘Great Decisions’ group and two investment clubs.” At that time the book group read “The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan while members of “Great Decisions” studied “Global Environment: Resources Assessment.” The book group and Great Decisions groups still meet today with a current book being “The Cellist of Sarajewo” by Stephen Galloway and a Great Decisions topic being “Halting Atrocities in Kenya.”
As we dined on Breast of Chicken Tarragon at the year’s end Scholarship Banquet, Ann Thompson’s installation as president from 1989 to 1991 saw a new decade emerge. The Eleanor Roosevelt Fund for “Women and Girls Intergenerational Partnerships” was introduced in 1988 and in 1989 expanded the traditional funding for fellowships. Monies were given to teachers and the focus was to provide better math and science teachers for girls. “Choices for Tomorrow’s Women” was the new Issue studied and our 1989 membership was 62. We sold Entertainment books for additional branch funding.
In 1991 our first Community Enrichment Award was presented to AAUW member Diane Rockall. The award was given to people who made an impact on the community and reflected the goals of the AAUW Mission Statement which states: “…..promote equity of women, promote education and self-development over the life span.” Betty Griffin and Dorothy Gay, long time members also received that award in later years.
A visit to Portland, Oregon and the National AAUW Convention was the first order of business for newly elected president Ann Weston in 1991. September of 1991 was the kick-off for also perhaps one of the most focused efforts by our Northville-Novi Branch. Our only Issue that year was “AAUW Initiative for Educational Equity.” In October we planned and hosted two local school counselors, a corporate leader who served as a catalyst for quality education, and a U of M research scientist in a public roundtable discussion held at Northville High School. The talk centered on gender bias in education and was precipitated by an AAUW video shown before the discussion. The video based on research by AAUW was titled, “Shortchanging Girls: Shortchanging America” and revealed that girls experience a significant drop in self-esteem compared to boys in the middle school years. The panel discussion was held at Northville High School and with the public invited we had a lively discussion.
In May of 1993 the equity committee planned and presented a one day science workshop, “Excited About Science”, for middle school girls. Our curriculum included the study of plant and animal communities in the pond, meadow, and forest habitats. Twenty-four girls in grades five through eight attended the two session workshop which cost them $5 with matching funds from us. The camp was initially at the Michigan State Tollgate Education Center in Novi and later was moved to Maybury State Park. Special tee shirts and sweatshirts were made with a science message printed on the front.
Later, a video was produced from pictures of that 1993 camp and shown at various neighboring AAUW meetings. It also served as a presentation when Renee Boving, Betty Hancock, and Jewel Luckett attended the International Federation of University Women meeting in Yokohama, Japan and the Fourth United Nations Conference of Women in Beijing, China in 1995.
Winifred Fraser took the office of president in September of 1993 and at the autumn buffet we heard of another survey from National titled, “Hostile Hallways: The AAUW Survey on Sexual Harassment in America’s Schools.” With two research studies to consider, the latter part of 1993 was just as exciting as the first 6 months. It seemed the community was interested too. Special recognition was received from National for increasing membership approximately 20% for 1993/94. In the meantime we received a certificate for an outstanding branch newsletter and that honor was again repeated in 1994.
The Potpourri group was initiated in 1994 and allowed us to experience local day time cultural events. We toured Pewabic Pottery, Focus Hope, and attended a DSO Coffee Concert. This year was also the beginning of many “star” awards for branch achievement. While Al Gore was dancing the macarina, we were dancing too, only for different reasons.
Our 1994-95 emphasis mirrored the state and national scene of the United States. The funding structure of our public schools, incorporating an increased awareness of diversity, and the amended AAUW Mission statement adding “positive societal change” inspired our programs. At one member program we had a panel of international women from Japan, Russia and India to discuss international gender.
Funding AAUW National programs continued with gifts in honor of members who made impressive contributions to the AAUW Northville-Novi Branch. The first gift to the Eleanor Roosevelt Fund was made in honor of Karen Olson in 1994 with monies given in honor of other members in succeeding years.
As we celebrated our 20th birthday in September 1995, Karen Olson assumed the presidency with a membership of 88. Our most intense first-time fund raising project was in full swing as we presented five historical homes during the September 1995 Victorian Festival. Many members helped plan the first home tour. We searched our closet for Victorian garb to wear and our extra effort was applauded by the community. The community not only purchased the 800 available tickets at $10 a piece, but also provided five beautiful homes and hostesses for the homes. Today the tour remains a major fund raiser and, with the exception of 2007, Northville residents have provided beautiful tour homes for Northville’s Victorian Festival.
The home tour was fun, but remembering Victorian times was not our point of concentration. We developed a research project and discovered our Northville and Novi elementary school libraries were short on books about women. The “Remember the Ladies” theme was embraced and through group or individual donations of $25, we were able to place books about women’s history in Northville/Novi elementary school libraries. The project remains active today with $6742 given to date for books. For our work on the “Remember the Ladies” project and the development of the “Excited About Science” hands-on camp, our branch received the Michigan AAUW 1996 Education Equity Award. In 1998/99 additional branch monies were given to both Northville and Novi Public Libraries to expand their collection of materials related to women.
AAUW of Michigan celebrated 75 years of active work in 1997. Michigan branches designed quilt blocks that were sewn together and then the quilt was donated to Michigan’s Historical Museum in Lansing. Our quilt square represented a kite soaring over a rainbow among the clouds to illustrate our branch’s growth, high aspirations, and successes. Participation in our state AAUW is not new. Northville-Novi members Renee Boving, Lorraine Kirkish, Carol Parker, Harriet Sawyer, and Ann Weston have all held state offices.
Interest in the Northville-Novi Branch was evident as the branch boasted a record high membership of 119 in April of 1997 when Diane Rockall became our twelfth president. Her husband, Rocky, and Bent Boving garnered congratulations in 1998 when they became our first male members. And more congratulations were in order for AAUW Northville-Novi member Carol Parker as she assumed the position of AAUW State President for 1998/99.
In addition to the executive board we had the following slate of offices: Educational Foundations and Legal Advocacy Fund, Public Policy, Bylaws and Policy, Nominations, Newsletter, Public Information, and International Affairs. Other special committees were: Historian, Directory, Historic Home Tour, Remember the Ladies Book Project, Book Discussion study group, Great Decisions study group, and Potpourri. All remain in place today with the addition of Financial Development (fund raising), Initiatives (projects) and IT/Website chairs and committees.
Our 1997 programming provided information on women in Bangladesh, networking, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, (well, really Lynett Brown in disguise), and an update from State Representative Nancy Cassis. We continued to give generously to National and local AAUW funding. In 1998 we gave $25 per member (116) or $2900 to the Education Foundation budget. Locally, in 1998, monies for endowment scholarships were set in place at Schoolcraft Community College and Oakland Community College for funding “……women returning to school after a lapse of time preferably one who is self supporting and in need of scholarship assistance.” The Women’s Resource Center at Schoolcraft College and the Woman’s Center at Oakland Community College were to select the scholarship recipients and use any excess money to assist other women in need. The endowments remain in place today with a total of $54,800 being awarded to the two schools.
The Eiffel Tower was glowing like a brilliantly lighted candle while the planet debated whether the millennium started in 2000 or 2001. The world celebrated with a huge party and we were not to be left out of the party mode.
On September 12, 2000 the AAUW Northville-Novi Branch celebrated a 25 year anniversary. With white tablecloths and red roses on the tables the party was held at Meadowbrook Country Club. Twelve charter members and eleven past-presidents were present. The party included speeches by Barbara Bonsignore, Great Lakes Regional Director, Carole Wells, AAUW Michigan President, and Karel Whitaker, the first president of the branch. A video showing our accomplishments was viewed and we welcomed our 13th AAUW President, Barbara Wilson. Four days later, on September 16th, we held our 6th Historic Home Tour and also in September our first Website was developed for our branch by Jean Hansen. We were busy beavers!
Not so busy, however, that we forgot our commitment to continue our monthly activities. One of our monthly memberships programs educated us about the lives of women in the new Russia, the Book Club read “The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant, and the Potpourri group visited the University of Michigan Museum of Art in Ann Arbor. Our endeavors also included the Science Workshop, the Home Tour, Remember the Ladies, and the Amerman Elementary School Project where we provided money to support several activities for girls to improve their self-esteem.
Mary Jane Kearns was our leader during the years of 2002/03. During this time a five-prong Strategic Plan was written for the Branch that included objectives, action steps, and a measurement for success. It was centered on the National AAUW Mission Statement guidelines and contributed to our programming and plans for the future.
Our members not only contributed to our branch efforts, but also helped with the “Girls Matter” conference at Oakland Community College and the “Brighter Tomorrow for Women” at Monroe Community College. Programming for our branch included Martin Brosnan speaking about “Behind the White House Doors: America’s First Ladies”, Asian medicine, tax laws, the spirit of Black American artists, sexual harassment of teenage girls in school and the history of Hines Drive.
In 2004, incumbent George W. Bush defeated John Kerry for the USA presidency as Jane Connor Hale, became our 15th AAUW Northville-Novi President. For our October program, Jane welcomed Northville’s Khris Nedam to tell us about the Kids 4 Afghan Kids school program in Afghanistan. Khris is the founder and U.S. Director for the multi-ethnic and humanitarian assistance, non-profit school that we help support. When enrollment started there were 465 students (24 girls) in the school. The Kids 4 Afghan Kids project in 2004 had 1200 students in first through eighth grades – with 580 girls attending. Our international allocation outreach that year also included $500 to the Thai Association of University Women’s Bina Roy Partners in Development Programme after a devastating tsunami hit Thailand.
On the local scene we received information from Nancy Swanborg telling us about Schoolcraft College Empowering Women for 31 years. In May, 2005, we gave $1500 to both Schoolcraft and Oakland Community College to help women achieve their education goals. We also presented $500 to a “Girls Matter” conference in our area. Meanwhile, national AAUW released a report titled “Under the Microscope: A Decade of Gender Equity Projects in the Sciences.” The report examined and analyzed 400 specifically aimed gender equity projects aimed at increasing the preparation of girls and women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
In September of 2005 we met at the First United Methodist Church in Northville. Our speakers for the evening were Joyce Murdock, Jane Hale, and newly elected President, Joan Cotton. The three women attended the AAUW National Convention in Washington, D.C. in June brought us energy and enthusiasm for the New Year. Throughout the next two years we had programs including school bullying, a True Colors presentation about understanding human characteristics and behaviors, and a Great Decisions panel discussion on Sudan and the War in Darfur. In addition to sponsoring Girl Scout Troop 1583, the 2005-2006 branch out reach totaled $6500. The year ended with a Scholarship Dinner at Oakland Community College where outgoing president Joan Cotton received her Past President’s pin from incoming President Joyce Murdock.
Joyce didn’t have too much time to relax as work progressed on our September 2006 home tour. The community supplied four beautiful homes to present for viewing during the Victorian Festival. A restored Victorian, a newly constructed Victorian farm house, a flower shop returned to a single family home, and an Arts and Crafts home decorated with craftsman style were on tour that year. A tour of Northville’s Art House was a bonus on the ticket. The home tour did not take place in 2007, but due to popular demand has been in place ever year since that time. In addition to the home tour profits we sold Woman’s Pins, tote bags, and wrapping paper to support our projects.
The Northville and Novi City Councils proclaimed November 28, 2006, AAUW Day in recognition of the 125th anniversary of AAUW. They recognized the group as one of the oldest non-profit organizations advocating for women’s rights. Also in November Karen Bunting launched the AAUW Northville-Novi Member Service Database at the Northville Library website. As a catalyst to improve and change women’s lives the Northville-Novi Branch became focused on how to use technology to move our mission forward.
Joan Cotton and Joyce Murdock headed the slate of officers as Co-Presidents for the years 2007-2008. It was May 13, 2007 that Suze Orman stated she was not too surprised that the AAUW Education Foundation Study “Behind the Pay Gap” highlighted the fact that women earned about 80 cents to every dollar earned by male counterparts one year after college graduation. The research study also showed that upon securing a job ten years after college graduation, full time working women earned 69% in wages as compared to men working full time. Equity was and still is an issue. (To see the complete study go to www.aauw.org.)
Branch programming for that period included Dr. David J. Law who discussed issues and controversies surrounding stem cell research, gene therapy, genetic profiling and high-tech versus low tech medicine. Other programs were Dr. Susan Thoms discussing her Mission to Mongolia, a trip to the Henry Ford Museum and the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, and a merry holiday reception in December at Starring: The Gallery on Main Street.
Our branch interest groups were thriving. One committee revived the “Remember the Ladies” project where in addition to monetary support, members read to elementary classrooms the month of March. We recently secured the 21st Century Bridge Award from AAUW Michigan for this project. While other members hosted two book groups, Great Decisions, Movie Goers, Restaurant Rovers, and Lunch Bunch, a “Gold” party and Tipping Point theatre benefit were added to our home tour fund raising efforts.
At the May 17, 2008 Annual Scholarship Luncheon at the Sheraton Novi Hotel the President’s gavel was turned over to charter member Corinne Vincent. There were 80 members on the roster and dues were $69 a year with $49 to National, $10 to State, and $10 to our branch.
Philip Power, founder and president of “The Center for Michigan” was the kick-off speaker for our September 2008 meeting at Country Club Village Clubhouse. Appetizers and desserts were enjoyed as we listened to his topic “Is Michigan Broken.” Many other interesting programs and projects followed in the next two years. We learned and applied technology that introduced us to terms such as skype, furl, twitter, and shelfari. We also enjoyed a tour and program at the brand new Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital. Perhaps the most unique member program was a trip to the local ACE Hardware store where we learned necessary information for daily living.
To enhance our mission statement we are resuming the practice of awarding $500 each to a Northville and Novi high school senior. Also, a brand new undertaking called “Women to Women” is in place. We participate in helping women achieve their potential at an inter-Detroit project named The Mercy Education Project. A new project called EBay-A-Thon is in place to secure funding.
A lot has changed since we had our first meeting in 1975. As Rhonda York assumes the presidency in June 2010, membership (100 plus), issues, and projects have changed, but the focus on equity for women and girls remains. Brooks Patterson remains. Fortunately, those polyester suits do not remain. It’s been a good 35 years of comradery and purpose. I’m so glad we don’t have to make that trip to Plymouth any more.