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Perfect harmony

For 125 years, Williams farm wives share laughter, friendship in rural social club

October 15, 2012
Teresa Wood ( , The Daily Freeman Journal

WILLIAMS - For more than 125 years, members of the Williams Harmony Club have met once a month to share good food, lively conversation and lots of laughter.

The Harmony Club was first formed in the closing years of the 19th century by farm women who lived on Xircus Avenue and Wilson Avenue, south of Williams in Hamilton County. The rural Williams neighbors formed just one of the social clubs in the area, according to Charlotte Johnson, a Harmony Club member of 46 years. The three other clubs were formed by farm wives living north, east and west of Williams. Today, the Harmony Club and the north group are the only two clubs still meeting.

"Most young farm wives have a job in town and don't have time for afternoon meetings, so farm neighborhood clubs are dying out," said Johnson.

Article Photos

Friends and laughter come together as Elaine Elm, forefront, hosted the October Harmony Club meeting. Also enjoying the day were Oma Luhman, Judy Willems, Alice Bowden and Judy Widholm.

The pool for potential members is also dwindling, said Johnson.

"There are fewer and fewer farmsteads left, so our neighbors are fewer and further apart," she said. "Many of us don't know our neighbors any more".

Currently, the oldest members of Harmony Club are Wyn Varland, 91 and Millard Elm, 92.The youngest member is 62 years old.

The club has no rules and no dues. The only stipulation is that members serve as hostess on a rotating basis.

In years past, this could be a challenge. When the current group began to meet, the hostess served a complete meal and many women brought their young children along. With membership ranging from an all-time high enrollment of 22 to the current 11 members, serving a supper could be akin to preparing a Thanksgiving feast.

Darlene Mark, a 60-year member of the club, can remember the entire menu of the meal she served when she was hostess for the first time.

"I remember because I spent my weekly grocery money," said Mark.

Membership usually increases when a current member invites a family member or friend to join. For Oma Luhman, her service as a chauffeur brought her to the fold.

"I got hooked into joining by driving someone here," she said.

Throughout the years, the meeting format has changed. Potlucks suppers and Bunko sometimes replace the meal. Or the group might attend a movie. The Harmony Club has also sponsored several field trips. They have travelled on overnight trips to Minneapolis, Iowa City and Amana Colonies

Progressive suppers have found the members travelling from one home to another as the course of a meal advanced through the night.

Brunch or supper are not the only meals the group has shared. Pity the poor member who was whisked away for breakfast in the early morning hours before dressing, brushing her teeth or combing her hair.

"You had to wear exactly what you had on and did not have time for makeup or nice hair," said Johnson. "All you got to do was grab your purse."

Mercifully, the breakfast destination was out of the public eye at a club member's home.

Throughout the years, the club has celebrated the holidays together. They have held Halloween costume parties and constructed floats for the Williams Fourth of July Parade. At the Christmas party, the friends enjoy a brunch hosted by Elaine Elm. Over the years, members discontinued their customary gift exchange. Now they select a local charity and make a group donation in the club's name.

But the bond that binds club members together is friendship. Members voice concern for one another, report family news and share health tips. The spontaneous modeling of a undergarment as well as the demonstration of a recent diet and health fad reduced many women to tears as laughter.

Even though many of the members have moved away over the years and now live in Iowa Falls, Radcliff and Webster City, they are still welcomed with open arms at the Williams Harmony Club.

"We have been through the births of our children together - In some cases, the death of a spouse," said Johnson. "We are like a family."



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