osted: Tuesday, May 19, 2009 1:00 am

This month's meeting of the Lakeside Community Club was far from a typical club meeting. In fact, the gathering looked less like a meeting and more like a big birthday party, complete with balloons, cake, more than 70 guests and about 100 candles.

Truth be told, that is exactly what the gathering was about. The community club, which first organized in 1909, celebrates 100 years in 2009 and the ladies of the club decided to throw the organization a birthday party to mark the occasion.

Birthday decor adorned the main dining area of the Vista Linda, including colorful balloons tied to the chairs at the dining tables, pansies and "Happy Birthday" signs - even a special birthday sheet cake donated from Buns By The Lake in honor of 100 years of service to the community.

The ceremony opened with a toast by club member Sam Matson followed by a reading from Silvia Murphy's history of the Lakeside and Somers area, titled "Stoner Creek and Beyond."

One of the main attractions at the event happened to be a set of old photo albums that belong to the community club and a display of vintage photographs of the club ladies dating back to the early 1900s. Guest speakers, Lucille Ritter and local author, Sylvia Murphy, who shared their own recollections of the earlier days.

Although Murphy did not join the community club until 1977, she recalled her first club meeting with fondness, remembering the surprise that it brought. She had long been told that the community club was made up of "devout little church women wanting to do good things for the community." However, she was surprised to find a group of women whose activities were as lively and social as any women's group around.

"One day, Becky Matson called me and asked if I could come to the club," she recalled. "It was a Christmas party, and I had a real good time, so I thought I'd better join. I've belonged since 1977 because I believe in what they do. I believe it's one of the best things that the community has going. So many of the ladies work so hard and are so dedicated.

"That first meeting that I went to, I was just kind of stunned. In those days, everybody used to smoke, and some of the women smoked. But what surprised me was that they were drinking wine at noon. I was pretty shocked about that, because nobody drank wine in the middle of the day. That hadn't even made its way to Kalispell."

Murphy recalled finding inspiration to write her book after a conversation with Torrance Harvey, who pastured the Lakeside Chapel for 49 years and was pastor when she and her husband first began attending. Harvey said that someone needed to write a history of the area, and as a journalism major, she believed herself capable of doing just that. What began as a much smaller project evolved after she began interviewing more and more people, including family members of the original homesteaders who settled in the area.

She even learned that her own home, which once belonged to George Fessenden, had served as a meeting place for the original club members on certain occasions. Mrs. Fessenden was an active member of the club in its early years. The club got its start when a group of ten homestead wives, living as much as ten miles apart, came together for an all-day meeting to get acquainted with one another and find companionship with other women in like circumstances. Florence Noble of Kalispell and a friend - referred to only as "Mrs. Disbrow" - organized that first meeting.

As a result, the club formed with Grace Betzer as its president and Mrs. George Fessenden as vice president, for the purpose of promoting friendship, sociability and aiding in community projects. The club adopted a set of by-laws on May 26, 1910, along with the motto, "Loyal in Everything."

As the club grew, a number of men became interested in starting a similar group. In 1915, the Linger Longer Club was also established. The school house, Murphy states in her book, served as the meeting place for both organizations.

According to Murphy, a second women's club, the Welfare Club, formed in 1929, having broken off from that earlier group. The Welfare Club continued on for a number of years and eventually changed its name to reflect its mission to benefit the community as a community club.

Although no one is clear on the dates, the community club eventually became inactive and remained so until it was reorganized in the late 1960's or early 1970's.

Ritter and Murphy both indicated that it was Jean Spiker who got the club meeting regularly again, although neither were sure of the exact date. Spiker, Murphy said, enlisted the aid of another woman, Jerry Nelson, who had previously worked with the Girl Scouts in New York and had a reputation for being an effective organizer.

Spiker and Nelson were able to reorganize a group of women and began meeting at the Blacktail Inn, which then stood on the grounds of the present Tamarack Alehouse & Grill. The club grew from there and became larger than it had ever been, evolving into the organization that exists today, which raises tens of thousands of dollars ever year to benefit local charities, emergency services and organizations that serve the community.

Ritter recalled the first community fair, which was held in the Lakeside Chapel and consisted of produce, peanut brittle and pecan sales and Attic Treasures, some of which continue to be a part of the fair to this day.

"I was the pecan lady," Ritter said. "I was in charge of the pecan sales, and pecans sales were kind of popular for a while. Mary Fisher knew where to get them and she gave me the address. She was a good club member and very active in this, like many of the women were. We've had a lot of good club members over the years, and a lot of them have come and gone, but the club has kept on. Both the club and fair grew to be bigger than what any of us could have imagined."

"What an honor to be part of organization that has existed for 100 years," current community club president Joyce Greve said, during last week's celebration. "It started out in 1909 with a small group of women, living in remote places along Flathead Lake, seeking friendship and a desire to help each other. They would be surprised if they could be here today.

"Everything has changed so much over the last century, but our club has kept the same ideals of friendship and providing help to our neighbors. Our focus of helping neighbors has expanded from passing on 'a sick kit' if someone was sick, to giving over $120,000 in the last four years to organizations like the ALERT helicopter, the QRU, West Shore Food Bank, Somers and Rollins fire departments, CASA, Abby House, Samaritan House, the West Shore Library, Northwest Health Care, Lakeside-Somers patrol car, and the list goes on and on it goes.'"

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