Oakland FCE Club celebrates 100th anniversary
For the past 94 years, friends and neighbors have assembled regularly in a simple but charming building on the hill beside Berea Church Road. Topped with a red tin roof, the structure sits next door to Berea Church of Christ and across Coles Ferry Pike from Friendship Christian School.
You'd bet this place breathed life once upon a time as a church or school.
But it's a historic clubhouse for local homemakers, a rural sisterhood that's endured across 10 decades.
The physical heart and soul of the Oakland community, the building boasts a 23-by-38-foot main room with floors, walls and ceilings crafted of handsome one-inch wide strips of dark hardwood.
It's kind of hard to believe this peaceful abode may have been used to facilitate the making of gunpowder during World War I when it sat 15 miles west of here in Old Hickory as part of the world's largest smokeless powder plant.
Nowadays, the clubhouse serves as the first Friday of the month meeting place for the Oakland FCE (Family Community Education) Club. Formerly known as the Oakland Home Demonstration Club, members of the group have been congregating here since the 1920s.
History of community clubs
If this building could talk, it would share tales of raucous Rook games, joyous wedding receptions, happy birthday parties, salivating chittlin' suppers, boisterous fox hunter gatherings, sumptuous home-cooked feasts and more.
Prayer for Farm Homemakers
Oh, Father of all loveliness, teach us to understand the joy of color, the peacefulness of valleys, the splendor of the forests, the grandeur of the mountains;
To see the touch of beauty in cloud and field and all things growing;
To look each day unto the hills for comfort, strength and promises;
To hear music borne of every breeze of birds, and brooks, and bees;
To laugh and play and mirror heaven's joy at home and everywhere;
To love all things beautiful in human hearts, and be a friend sincere;
To be wise, generous and brave in striving for the public good;
To know the real in song, in art, in books;
To make four walls into a home of love and simple beauty.
To be content with what is ours and changeth not, but never be satisfied until our homes reflect our best selves.
Source: Wilson County 1937 Home Demonstration Clubs Yearbook. (There were 22 clubs in the county this year.)
The Oakland Community Club was conceived in 1913. This year, the 42 members of the Oakland FCE Club are celebrating their 100th anniversary.
"We're treating this as our centennial year. We've been around a hundred years at least," said Cathrine Brown, 87, who has been a member for 18 years. "We can say our mothers and grandmothers started this about 100 years ago.
"We have had many of our older members die in the past few years. I'm the oldest member of the club, but there are others who have been here longer than me. We have had a lot of new members in recent years, and we've enjoyed that. We don't restrict our membership to our community."
The club has its roots, like hundreds of clubs across the United States, going back to 1897 with the first Demonstration Farms in 1897. That expanded into Boys Corn Clubs in 1907 and Girls Tomato Canning Clubs in 1910. (These two laid the groundwork for 4-H and Future Farmers of America.) The canning clubs evolved into Home Demonstration Clubs, and then morphed into Extension Homemakers Clubs in 1985. Then in 1992, it took on the name of Family and Community Education Clubs.
"The History of Home Demonstration Clubs in Wilson County, Tennessee, 1913-2006," edited by Charlene Key with assistance by Anne Stark, shares more facts about the Oakland community club, which was organized in March 1913 with the goal to be helpful to neighbors and share and exchange ideas.
Oakland building constructed by community
The homemakers first met (where else?) in homes, and during WWI assembled in an old storehouse. After the war, in the early 1920s, DuPont began to dismantle and sell their buildings at the Old Hickory powder plant.
"Some of the men in this community went down there and brought truckloads of lumber to build this building. The land was donated by Will Trice," said Brown.
On June 10, 1921, the University of Tennessee's College of Agriculture bestowed a charter to the Oakland Community Club.
Construction of the clubhouse began Aug. 15, 1922. It reportedly cost $300 to build with most of the funds coming from cash prizes awarded to winning contestants at the county fair. The men of the community performed the carpentry work. The women fed them hot meals, and then the ladies painted the building and took over its management.
Opening night was held Jan. 6, 1923, and the first regular meeting convened Jan. 13, 1923. The clubhouse has been in constant use since. During WWII, the women made mattresses here, and when the Oakland Schoolhouse burned, the clubhouse turned into temporary classroom space. It also has served as a house of worship at times when the Berea Church has received makeover work.
Brown, who was customer service manager at Hartmann Luggage for 15 years, joined the club at the invitation of her friend, Jane Trice Sampson.
"I had just retired, and I thought, 'Well, I'll just see what goes on there.' My mother was a member for many years of the Brush Creek Home Demonstration Club in Smith County. What they did then was teach newly-married women how to churn butter and things like that," she recollected. "I can remember them coming to our house and teaching my mama how to make cottage cheese," said Brown.
Wilson County Fair a big event
The longest tenured member of the Oakland Club, Emma Jean Trice Tomlinson, 82, has been on the roll for 55 years, and her late mother, Era Trice, enlisted in the club in the 1920s
She remembers coming to the clubhouse every month with her mom when she was a young girl and enjoying Rook parties here as a teenager in the 1940s.
"We always had a lot of different demonstrations on sewing and cooking. Mrs. Clara Gilbert, the Home Demonstration agent came every month back then and put on some kind of demonstration," Tomlinson said.
"We entered a lot of stuff in the county fair. We always set up a booth when the fair was held on Coles Ferry Pike where the Senior Citizens Center is now. They had a grandstand and under the back was where the different clubs put up their booths. They had a contest and gave prizes to the best booth."
Tomlinson said the best part of being in the club has been "the friendships that I have made there."
The Wilson County FCE (Family Community Education) Creed
We will strive to promote a better way of life for all through fellowship, continuing education and service. To provide guidance in our homes and communities by the uniting of people to make the world a better place in which to live. May we have pride in our roles as homemakers and family and community educators, and may our hearts be filled with joy as we serve. Let us always be conscious of the needs of others and be strengthened by the "Divine Light" that guides us all.
'A civic-minded bunch of ladies'
Lebanon's Brenda Kolbe, a member since 1994, echoes those sentiments.
"My husband died eight years ago. It was amazing how they supported me. They are the nicest ladies, and they're just great women," Kolbe said.
"I love learning things, and we have programs every month on different subjects. It can be anything from financial advice to cooking, safety and health tips, and I like the idea of having a purpose.
"We support the Help Center and Southside School. We have made little preemie quilts for [Monroe Carroll] Vanderbilt Children's Hospital. We like to get in there and do things. We're sponsors of the Wilson County Fair, and every year we give a demonstration on quilting. It's just a really civic-minded bunch of ladies.
"I have just really enjoyed being a part of this on all different levels. It meets a whole lot of needs in the community that a lot of people don't know about. A lot of ladies who are stay-at-home moms need this kind of outlook, and we have a variety of ages and interests," said Kolbe.
From two dozen to around 10
Wilson County has had as many as two dozen home demonstration clubs in the past. Those remaining active include Cedar Hill, Carroll, Tuckers Crossroads, Shop Springs, Commerce, Mt. Juliet, Major, Norene, Leeville, Green Hill and Oakland.
As to what factors caused about half of the clubs to disband, Wilson County Extension Agent Shelly Barnes explained, "I would have to say age played a big part of that as well as the changing family unit. Through the years, many women have had to go to work and have not been able to stay at home."
She summarized the current mission of the clubs saying, "Wilson County FCE is a community organization that focuses on education, service and community outreach.
"The FCE Clubs are very important to the history of Wilson County and most other counties. For many women, the club was something to look forward to as they grew up to be young homemakers.
"I believe that the type of things they used to learn would really benefit young people today. However, the world has become so fast-paced. Some people tend to think that social media has replaced the need for social interaction and other Internet-based sites, apps, etcetera, have replaced the need to learn hands-on life skills.
"It's funny how many calls I get from people that don't know how to cook a turkey and are just scared to death, or don't know what to use to get some kind of stain out. I'm thankful to be in a profession where I can still try my best to pass these life skills down to my daughter," said Barnes.
'We have a good time'
Typical FCE Club meetings include a roll call, a song, prayer, reading of the minutes, a report and then a speaker, a question-and-answer session and a meal.
Brown said, "The FCE office furnishes subject matter and provides literature. We have a speaker, who is usually one of our members, but occasionally we have a guest, like a young policeman who came recently and spoke about the safest way to carry your credit cards and cash.
After the speech, we can ask question and discuss the topic. We have a good time."
The Oakland FCE has sort of adopted the special-needs children of Southside Elementary School and helps purchase such items as toothpaste, toothbrushes and lotions for the youngsters.
Center of the community
Jo Palmer Beard of Lebanon grew up a tenth of a mile from the Oakland clubhouse. Her mother, Bertha McFarland Palmer, likely was a charter member and remained one until her death in 1981.
Beard, 92, remembers walking to the clubhouse with her mother, playing on the grounds and a variety of events that took place here.
"If anybody got married in the community, there was always a shower in the clubhouse," she said. "Communities back then were close, not like it is now. I think it was the center of the community. I think it meant a way of learning. We had an agent that came to every meeting and gave instructions on good health, sewing, cooking and running a household. Not every lady in the community was a member, but most were.
"I was a member from the time I was in the 4-H Club in school until I married in 1950, and I was a member after that until I had three little ones. Later, I rejoined after my kids were grown.
"I loved that old building. It had such beautiful floors and ceilings. It bothers me if the home demonstration clubs should ever cease to exhibit. It bothers me what would become of the building. It sure meant a lot to me and my family," said Beard, one of the many happy homemakers who nurtured close friendships in such clubs throughout the 20th century and into a new millennium.
Editor's note: Some of the facts in this story were gleaned from "Memories of Oakland (Collected by Past and Present Members of the Oakland FCE Club)," published in 1992 and compiled by Mary Smith Hubbard and Elsie Margaret Ivy Smith.
Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.