Facebook Twitter

Hats off — Red Hat Society celebrates 10th anniversary

SHARE Hats off — Red Hat Society celebrates 10th anniversary

"The Red Hat Society began as a result of a few women deciding to greet middle age with verve, humor and elan. We believe silliness is the comedy relief of life, and since we are all in it together, we might as well join red-gloved hands and go for the gusto together. Underneath the frivolity, we share a bond of affection, forged by common life experiences and a genuine enthusiasm for wherever life takes us."

—Sue Ellen Cooper, queen mother of the Red Hat Society

TAYLORSVILLE — In 1961 a British poet named Jenny Joseph wrote a piece about getting older that she called "Warning." In it she said:

"When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

"With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me."

She went on to talk about all the other things she would do in the freedom of old age. And then ended:

"But maybe I ought to practice a little now?

"So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised

"When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple."

Years later, something about that poem struck a chord with a California woman named Sue Ellen Cooper. She gave a framed copy of the poem and a cheap red fedora hat she had bought at a thrift store to one of her friends as a birthday gift. The gift was so well-received that Cooper did the same for another friend, and another.

One day it occurred to these friends that they were part of a select Red Hat Society, and perhaps they should go out to tea. Perhaps they should wear their red hats and find purple outfits that didn't match them. So they did.

The tea was a great success, and other women wanted to go have tea, too. Pretty soon women were forming groups of their own, and magazines and newspapers were writing about them, and more women wanted to get in on the fun — and the Red Hat Society was born.

Since then chapters have sprung up all over the country. This spring the Red Hat Society celebrates its 10th anniversary.

They like to refer to it as a "dis-organization," designed only for social interaction, silliness, creativity and fun. There are only two hard-and-fast rules: You must be a woman of 50 or older to join, and you must attend functions in full regalia — red hat, purple outfit. (If you are younger than 50 you can attend functions, but you have to wear a pink hat and lavender dress.)

The standard answer to the question of "what do you do?" is "nothing." That's not quite true, of course. They have fun. They promote the notion that aging is not to be dreaded but embraced. And they do support various charitable causes, on a chapter-by-chapter basis.

There are about 40,000 chapters of the Red Hat Society in the United States and 25 foreign countries, and national conventions are held yearly. (For more information, visit www.redhatsociety.com.)

Utah has 119 chapters of the Red Hat Society, says Lynn Bench, who is vice queen of the Utah Red Hat Firecrackers and also involved with other Red Hat groups.

A typical chapter has about 20 members, she says — you get too many, and they can't all fit around one table, so they tend to form splinter groups of their own.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary, approximately 200 Utah Red Hatters who live along with Wasatch Front will gather at the Union Station in Ogden for a high tea on May 3. Most will arrive by the new high-speed FrontRunner trains, and at the tea they will be entertained by the Saliva Sisters.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has also declared today, the actual anniversary of the society's founding, as Red Hat Day in Utah.

Recently, members of the Girlfriends Forever chapter gathered at the home of Lucille Fukawa for a Spring Flower Tea, one of their regularly scheduled monthly activities.

It was a special occasion for Fukawa, who serves as queen of the chapter. Three years ago she was out shopping with her friend, Jane Moore, and they came across a wonderful tea set and so they each bought one.

"We were going to have a tea party, but then she got sick," explained Fukawa. "She kept saying, 'Don't have it without me. Wait until I come home.' Well, she never did come home, and I couldn't bear to use the tea set."

Until now. Now seemed like a perfect time to get out the tea set in honor of Moore, in honor of the society's 10th anniversary and in honor of friendship in general. "Without friends, I don't know what I'd do," Fukawa said. That's what the Red Hat Society is all about, she said. "We have fun together."

Other women at the tea agreed.

Before joining the group, Lily Watts said, she sometimes dreaded meeting some of her friends who were getting older. They were depressed, they were widows, they were empty-nesters and some were having a hard time coping. "Here, we just enjoy being together. We dress up, which brings back memories of childhood, and we have lighthearted fun."

That's not to say some of the group members don't have problems.

"Two years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer," Donna Meyer said. "I had to quit working, but I didn't want to just stay home." She joined the group, "and it's been a pleasure," she said. Her bone-marrow cancer is under control. "I love coming to luncheons. My goal is to eat as much dessert as I can," she joked.

Bonnie Collins joined the group after her husband died. "Now I have people I can go out to eat with, go to the theater with. It gets me out of the house with friends. It's a lot of fun."

Char Mott found out about the group when she went to a senior citizens center to take a computer class. "I saw some ladies in red hats, and they were eating ice cream. I thought, I want to eat ice cream, too."

What's so fun about the society, she said, is that it brings together "fabulous women from all walks of life. They are women who want to do things. They want to get out. My husband's a football addict, so I can go to concerts and to the theater while he watches his games. It's been a wonderful experience. And, for sure, we get to eat!"

The group meets at least monthly; sometimes more often. Luncheons, teas, concerts and other activities are popular. For Easter, they all made red hats out of red paper plates and wore them out to dinner at a restaurant.

But it's not all about fun. "We do a lot of charity projects," Fukawa said. "We took Easter baskets to Shriners Hospital. We took paper dolls — that we all cut out — to Primary Children's. We've gathered teddy bears for homes for unwed mothers."

But those kinds of things add to the enjoyment, said Bench, who lives in Sandy (where she meets with her Firecrackers), but also comes to Taylorsville because she knows Fukawa and loves this group, too. "I'm just having so much fun. This is what I do for myself. When I retired early, my doctor told me to get involved in something. I saw something about the Red Hats on TV, and my husband said, 'That's something you can do.' I love people. I love the wonderful people I meet here. You put on that red hat and something very special happens."

Added Fukawa: "It's how we stay young."

E-mail: carma@desnews.com