Stetzel’s history with Extension Homemakers not too far off from organization’s beginning

Vera Stetzel has been a member of the Union Thrifty Club for 72 or 73 years — not many years less than the 100 years the club’s parent organization, the Indiana Extension Homemakers, has been in existence.
Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally published Oct. 14, 2013.

Vera Stetzel's history with Indiana Extension Homemakers doesn't quite go back to the organization's beginning a century ago.

But she's close.

She's been a member of the Union Thrifty Club "72 or 73 years," she says, making her one of the longest standing members of the organization in Huntington County.

It was peer pressure, she says, that got her to join the club in the first place.

"All the neighbors did, and they were after me to join," Stetzel says.

So Stetzel, a mother of two young girls, joined up.

The Union Thrifty Club usually met at its members' homes, she says, but there was never any need for a babysitter.

"In those days, they all took the kids with them to the meetings," she says.

When it was Stetzel's turn to host the meeting, she set aside a room for the kids; one of the members was appointed to entertain them. The number of kids in that room varied from year to year.

"We had 29 members when I was president," Stetzel says. "That was a lot, 29 or more kids."

The club met once a month.

"We usually ran the roll call and everything," she remembers. "In those days, we talked about the kids, going to school and things."

Club members would seek out information about new products and techniques for the home, then come back and present programs to the other club members, she said.

"Anything new that came out, we learned about it," she says.

For special programs, club members came to Huntington,

"We used to meet at the Public Service building every so often," she says. "Like when the microwave came out, they showed us how to use it.

"They showed us how to pop corn, right on the ear - put it in a paper bag and pop it. Nobody believed it until they saw it."

Occasionally, the club went farther afield.

"We'd take a little club trip once a year," she says. "Some local, some out of town."

Few of the members held jobs outside the home, but Stetzel says that doesn't mean they didn't work.

"I had a job, all right," she says. "I cooked for the hired hands a good many years."

That was five or six mouths to feed, in addition to her husband and two daughters.

"We raised beef cattle until the price went down so," she says. "Then mostly grain. My husband was a good farmer."

The land is now farmed by Steve Platt, she says.

Stetzel still pays her club dues, which have gone up from 25 cents a year to $10 annually during her more than seven decades of membership. Now a resident of Norwood Health and Rehabilitation - along with fellow long-time Union Thrifty Club member Devota Smith - she makes it to club meetings about once a year when they're held at Norwood's activity room.

One of Stetzel's daughters, Rita McCabe, followed in her mother's footsteps and is currently serving as an officer in the Huntington County Extension Homemakers organization.

There won't be a third generation, though, Stetzel says. Neither of McCabe's daughters joined the organization. Like many other women of their generation, they just don't have the time for it.

"The first one is a school teacher, and the other one manages a hotel in South Carolina," Stetzel says.

Today's dwindling membership is a far cry from the situation when Stetzel first joined.

"We had a lady in our club, when she was president, she wanted to limit it to 30 members," Stetzel says.

That didn't sit well with Stetzel, who sought a ruling from Extension officials.

"I asked the question, and they said, ‘You cannot turn anybody down who wants to join.'" Stetzel says.

"We don't have to do that now. We don't have that many."