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HomeLife In the BerkshiresCONNECTIONS: The Thursday...

CONNECTIONS: The Thursday Morning Club turns 130 years old

From inception, The Club supported services to children, veterans, emergency services, and numerous contributions to the town of Great Barrington.

About Connections: Love it or hate it, history is a map. Those who hate history think it irrelevant; many who love history think it escapism. In truth, history is the clearest road map to how we got here: America in the 21st century.

Like the Tuesday Club of Stockbridge, the Thursday Morning Club (TMC) in Great Barrington is 130 years old this year. Founded in 1892, both clubs can be proud of their century and a third of service and fellowship. In her message to the TMC members, acting President Marilyn Dempsey Cameron wrote, “You are women from all walks of life who give of yourselves to help others.”

On March 15, 1892, 19 ladies met to organize a club whose purposes were to promote sociability, fellowship, literary taste and culture, and to give to the community. Then as now, the emphasis in TMC was on “betterment,” of themselves and their community.

Nine days later, on March 24, in response to a local newspaper advertisement, 40 women attended the first meeting of the Thursday Morning Club. For 30 years, the name was descriptive until, in 1921, TMC voted to meet in the afternoon. Everything else remained the same.

Charity was always a centerpiece of the club’s activities. From inception, it supported services to children, veterans, emergency services, and numerous contributions to the town of Great Barrington. According to TMC records, the first deposit into a scholarship fund was made in October 1945. The deposit was $100 (approximately equal to $2,000 today).

According to club historian Kathleen Plungis, the first scholarship was awarded in May 1948. Miss Bertha Ferguson, a teacher at Searles High School, used the scholarship to pay for a course for directors given at Stockbridge Playhouse (Berkshire Theatre Group today). Ferguson completed the course during the summer of 1948. In November 1948, Ferguson directed a play, “Ladies of Troy,” to benefit TMC.

Frank Krohm, son of a Great Barrington farming family, received the scholarship in 1951. He attended Cornell and went on to become a veterinarian. In June 1952, two scholarships were awarded: Krohm received a second award to continue his studies, and Joan Cook received her first. She completed a teaching course and was an English teacher at Searles Middle School. Both of them received the scholarship the next year, as well.

TMC has increased the number and amount of the yearly scholarships. By 1992, after just shy of 50 years of giving, TMC awarded over $100,000 in academic scholarships to an estimated 94 recipients. By 2022, it is estimated another $100,000 was awarded making it approximately $200,000 to approximately 200 aspiring students.

The intent of the Scholarship Committee remained to award money to high school students who were college-bound. This year, TMC awarded 22 scholarships to students at Monument Mountain and Mount Everett High Schools. The criteria for a scholarship were need, school performance, and volunteer activities to benefit the community.

During my presidency — a position I was very proud and honored to hold — we expanded the pool of potential recipients to young people attending community colleges, vocational schools, and trade schools. We also discussed scholarships for older women returning to college after marriage and motherhood. It was entertained as a new idea, but Bertha Ferguson was familiar with the concept as early as 1946.

Winston Lavalee at podium; TMC Acting President Marilyn Dempsey Cameron in background. Photo courtesy Claudette Callahan

For almost 75 years, TMC helped young people on their way to higher education. Now one came back. Winston Lavallee was an early recipient of $50 a year, for two years, to attend the Stockbridge Agricultural School (part of UMass today).

The $100 investment in his future yielded fine results for this Berkshire boy. Lavallee attended UMass Amherst where he received his Ph.D. in entomology. He served as a professor for more than 35 years at Holyoke Community College and was a lifelong advocate for the stewardship of natural resources and ecological sustainability.

Lavallee is the author of several short stories and two novels, “Tempest in the Wilderness” and “Dancing in the Dark.” Lavallee first collected materials to record the conservation and plant pest control techniques employed in New England during the 1930s and 1940s. Later, however, he used them to set the background for “Dancing in the Dark,” a novel set in a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp during the Depression. Altogether the documents and artifacts offer a valuable picture of the CCC, the men who were employed by it, and the work they did — such as road building, fire hazard reduction, and the development of recreational spaces.

Lavallee put the materials he gathered together to form the Lavallee Collection. The collection includes research notes, publications, photographs, and the recollections of men who Lavallee interviewed about their service in the CCC.

This year, Lavallee — the former recipient of TMC Scholarships totaling $100 — attended the TMC luncheon with his wife. He left Berkshire County with a scholarship in his pocket, and this year, the octogenarian returned as a donor to the Scholarship Fund. He endowed a special scholarship named after and honoring a teacher who inspired him, Ken Milligan.

Lavallee said about heroes, “The obvious ones, firemen, police, doctors and nurses, yes, but the unseen ones who work to make life better and support their community.” He was referring to Milligan but also to TMC and its members.

In establishing the Ken Milligan Scholarship, Lavallee returned the investment TMC made in him five-fold. If a mutually fruitful full circle, with all involved having gone forth and done good.

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