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Painting the Town Red

Madison area Red Hat Society
chapters are growing

These ladies know how to have fun

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

(January 2005) – Having fun after age 50 is what the Red Hat Society is all about. With more than 250,000 members nationally, the Red Hat Society is a phenomenon sweeping the country. Southern Indiana and north central Kentucky are no exceptions. Red Hatters are popping up throughout Kentuckiana, with several chapters having formed.

Jan 2005 IN Cover

January 2005
Indiana Cover

Vina Williams, 82, began the Madison, Ind., Red Hat chapter two years ago. Williams first learned of the Red Hat Society during her winter stay in Florida. She spent 29 winters there and has started two Red Hat groups in the Sunshine State.
During one winter, the Florida chapter visited Cypress Gardens, where it had the entire theme park to itself for a day. With 600 Red Hatters there, the catered event included red geraniums and purple table cloth decor.
Williams said she instructs people, “When you get old, instead of feeling sorry for yourself, put on a red hat, purple dress and feel good.” In the Red Hat Society, Williams said the goal is for everyone to feel welcome. Red hats and purple dresses can be purchased at garage sales and thrift shops, or at more expensive department stores. However, the purpose when wearing them is the same: to have fun.
Williams said she “gets a kick out of being noticed” in her symbolic red and purple clothing. The organization is a social club that “gets you out.” There are a lot of widows in the Madison chapter. And you’re never too old to have fun. Three members are in their 90s.
“We do a lot,” said Williams, who also volunteers three days a week for various civic and church organizations. Such participation “does your heart good,” she said.
The fact that there are no obligations or officers in the society is another plus for Williams. It is truly a fun experience, with no strings attached. “Not a day passes without people telling me that they saw a bunch of Red Hatters recently,” said Williams.
Sometimes husbands are invited for the luncheons the ladies share, but they are asked to sit at another table, she joked. This organization is for women only. “I’m so very proud of my girls,” she said.

Vina Williams

Photo provided

Madison chapter started by Vina Williams, pictured at Cypress Gardens, Fla., during a national Red Hat Society event.

The Red Hat Society is most commonly described by the verb “fun.” Sue Ellen Cooper started this phenomenon in Fullerton, Calif., when she impulsively bought a bright red fedora at a thrift shop. A year or so later, Cooper read a poem by Jenny Joseph titled, “Warning,” and felt an immediate kinship with the author. The poem depicted an older woman wearing purple clothing and a red hat.
Cooper began giving the poem and vintage red hats to friends as gifts. Soon, the friends invited more friends to dress in red hats and purple dresses, while accompanying each other to teas and luncheons. As this California group grew, sibling chapters were formed in other states. Two national Red Hat Society conventions are held annually.
On her Internet website, Cooper has said, “The Red Hat Society began as a result of a few women deciding to greet middle age with verve, humor and elan.
Underneath the frivolity, we share a bond of affection forged by common life experiences and a genuine enthusiasm for wherever life takes us next.”
Finding appropriate clothing and accessories locally is easy thanks to the many shops that now carry the two popular required colors.
Wanda’s Gifts in downtown Madison carries Red Hat items such as hats, scarves, feathers, jewelry, hats, boas, ink pens and stationery. Owner Wanda Gross said the items exemplify “a lot of fun. They give the feeling of being free, fun, your own individual.”
Gross is the “Queen Bee” of the most recently formed Madison area Red Hat Honeys. Gross, 64, said the society just keeps “growing more all of the time.” Ladies can get together as friends, eat out, shop and become acquainted with new people, with no rules or strings attached, she said. “It’s always a group thing.”
A popular item this time of year with Red Hatters has been Christmas ornaments. Middletown, Ky., resident Betty Conley crafts dough ornaments and sells them at Head House Antiques in Middletown. Conley said she tries to produce ornaments that cater to “whatever is popular.” And the Red Hatters popularity is steadily growing on both sides of the Ohio River.
Many of Conley’s creations depict a red hat, a lady wearing a red hat and holiday ornaments with a snowman wearing the traditional red hat. Conley even produces table top trees decorated in the Red Hat fashion, adorned with hats, feathers and lights.
Conley began making dough ornaments 20 years ago and embellishes them with acrylic paints. The Red Hat ornaments sell for $2.98 to $3.98.
While Conley is best known locally for her sports-themed ornaments, the Red Hat-themed ornaments are bringing her a brisk business from the many local Red Hat chapters. The Red Hat Society is a great “excuse for the ladies to get together,” said Conley.

How the Red Hat Society began

It all began in Tucson, Ariz., where Sue Ellen Cooper (a.k.a. The Queen Mother) came across a bright red hat at a thrift shop. She liked it and it was cheap, so she purchased it. A year or two had passed when she read the poem “Warning” by Jenny Joseph which begins, “When I am an old woman,” and then goes on to depict a woman boldly wearing a red hat and a mismatched purple outfit.
Cooper, intrigued by the poem, decided to give her friend, Linda Murphy, a vintage red hat with a copy of the poem as gift on her birthday. Her thought was that her friend would be able to hang the hat on a hook next to the framed poem on the wall.
Murphy loved the gift so much that she gave the same gift to several of her friends. As this continued, it occurred to the women that, without any intentions of doing so, they were forming a “Red Hat Society,” and that it might be fun to go out to tea in their red hats. To complete the image of the poem that had inspired them, they all went out and found purple outfits to wear to tea with their red hats.
The tea was such a success that soon each woman began inviting friends to buy a red hat and join the group. In no time at all, there were 18 women in red hats and purple attire trying to squeeze around a table for tea.
As more women became interested, they were encouraged to start their own chapters. The day one of the women told a friend in Florida about the group of which she had grown so fond, the first “sibling chapter” was born. Although the group began with women 50 and older, membership is not restricted; members under 50 are “pink hatters” who wear lavender outfits with pink hats until the “big birthday.”
Sue Ellen hopes for chapters to proliferate around the globe so that women everywhere can join hands and embrace aging with silliness and companionship. Chapters have formed across the United States and in several other countries. In addition to regular chapter get-togethers, there have been two successful Red Hat Society Conventions filling hotels with women in red hats. Sue Ellen’s vision of reaching every corner of the world may not be too far off.

Source: www.redhatsociety.com

Barbara Dunn of Carrollton, Ky., was looking for “something to do at my age,” when she met some Red Hatters in La Grange. Dunn, 59, described herself as a very outgoing person. For her, the Red Hat Society is “like a sisterhood.”
Dunn joined the society online after reading about the society on the national website. Dunn has organized a Carrollton chapter, the Red Hats of Twin Rivers. She hopes her chapter will expand and members will “go places and do things as a group, or sisterhood.”
For one of the chapter’s first projects, Dunn decorated a Red Hat Christmas wreath, on display at Gen. Butler State Resort Park. She wants to organize an active chapter, with meetings twice a month.
Norma Kennedy, Queen Mother of the Oldham County Red Hat Society, said the organization is a great way to “have a lot of fun.” Kennedy, 81, became familiar with the society after visiting a Senior Center in Grapevine, Texas, where she lived at the time. When Kennedy moved to La Grange, the existing Senior Center was not very active. After gathering Red Hat information, she held an open house at the center and received enough positive response to start a local chapter.
As Red Hat Society’s pop up around the nation, and around the globe, women will be looking forward to their 50th birthday and loving every day after it.

• For more information on these local chapters, contact Kennedy at (502) 225-0955, Dunn at (502) 732-5332, Williams at (812) 273-1981 or Gross at (812) 265-5166. Or visit the national website at: www.redhatsociety.com to find a chapter near you.

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