HEBER, Wasatch County — Hilma Bellessa moved back to Heber over a decade ago, after moving away to California when she was just 11 years old. It felt good to be back in the place where her pioneer ancestors settled, and it allowed her to join the Shakespearean Club, like her mother and her grandmother.

Started in March of 1895, the Shakespearean Club, according to Bellessa, originally began as a way for pioneer women to bring "culture and entertainment" to their little town. Things have changed a bit since then; club members no longer meet once a week and the host of the meeting doesn't have to provide a full dinner for club members, just dessert.

But the most important thing has remained the same: The book club provides an outlet for its 25 members to discuss art, literature and whatever else is important to them. For Bellessa, it's about that camaraderie, but it's also about carrying on her family's legacy.

"I feel an obligation," Bellessa said. "For me personally, it’s (to) honor my grandmother and mother."

The Shakespearean Club in Sept. 2018, which a group of pioneer women first started in the 1890s and is still going strong in present-day Heber.
The Shakespearean Club in Sept. 2018, which a group of pioneer women first started in the 1890s and is still going strong in present-day Heber. | Provided by Hilma Bellessa

Deseret News: Where did the name of the club come from?

Hilma Bellessa: It was called the Literary Club to start with, and then I think somebody said, well, there are all kinds of literary clubs, we need a name that’s different. And you know, back then … there really was an interest in classics, in Shakespeare and that type of thing. So I think that’s why they changed the name, is to make it known that they were serious literary people. Can’t get more serious than Shakespeare.

DN: What do meetings look like?

HB: Every month, someone will host, and then someone will present. Whoever presents, they’re the ones who determine what book (we discuss). … You don’t have to read the book, (but) it always is a better discussion if (the members) have read it (ahead of time).

DN: How does someone become a member?

HB: When we have … someone die or leave the club for health reasons, or any other reason, then someone will just suggest a name and we vote on that and then contact that person. … One of the really old members (said) she remembered the days when you saw the Shakespearean ladies come up to your door you just cried, you were so excited you were going to be a member of the club.

DN: How did you end up joining, after you moved back to Utah?

HB: My (friend from church) ... was a member of the club, and ... she just asked me if I had heard of the Shakespearean Club and if I had any interest in joining. So I kind of gave her my history about the club and then I was happy to belong.

DN: What has it been like for you to be a member of this club?

HB: Like any organization you belong to, you gain friendships, and it’s nice when people have like interests, and we all kind of enjoy the books that we talk about and just being together. … And you learn a lot, you know, you learn from other people’s perspectives. Especially when you’re discussing a book, you might get a totally different take on what the book was about, so it’s educational.

DN: What do you see as the legacy of the Shakespearean Club?

HB: I think in a way it honors the early pioneers, and it gives us an opportunity to kind of carry forth that line of culture and interest and things other than mundane.

The Shakespearean Club recommends:

"A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD," by Anne Tyler, Penguin Random House, 384 pages (f)

"BEING MORTAL: Medicine and What Matters in the End," by Atul Gawande, Macmillan Publishers, 304 pages (nf)

"CUTTING FOR STONE," by Abraham Verghese, Knopf Doubleday, 667 pages (f)

"DESTINY OF THE REPUBLIC: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President," by Candice Millard, Penguin Random House, 432 pages (nf)

"THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN," by Kate Morton, Simon and Schuster, 560 pages (f)