Archive for Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Over-50 crowd paints the town red

August 20, 2003

Frankly, my dear, they don't give a -- well, you know.

They travel in a pack with a distinctive uniform of red hats and purple dresses, two colors that, to most fashion-conscious eyes, clash.

These women are members of the unofficial Red Hat Society group: Nora Van Allen, Adyne Anding, Elinor Brees, Bonnie Campbell, Robin Carlino, Roberta Engle, Helen Fryer, Mary Gurss, Marty Hegarty, Alberta Heintzelman, Betty Heintzelman, Virginia Heintzelman, Dorothy Medill, Jan Nelson, JoAnn Ohnemus, Scarlett O'Hara, Dorothy Ratliff, Ann Rogers, Rose Anne Sachse, Rosemary Sachse, Jeanette Schoen, Mary Shew, Grace Uhart and Mary Wentz.

No, this sorority, known as the Red Hat Society, has just a couple requirements: wear the proper attire and be 50 or older.

Last week, a group of red hatters from Leavenworth met at Bichelmeyer's Steakhouse in Tonganoxie. But this pack of women actually doesn't belong to the national society because they aren't interested in paying the annual dues -- $35 for the first 20 members and $1 for each additional member.

"That's all got expenses to it and I forewarned my ladies that there would be no expenses other than that they pay for their own food," said organizer Rose Anne Sachse of Leavenworth. "No dues, no memberships, no responsibility."

The group has a simple plan. Since last September, the women have met once a month for a meal. And the only official business discussed during the meeting involves where the women will eat at the next month's meeting.

But as laid back a group as the 20-plus member club is, it does have one "celebrity" -- Scarlett O'Hara of Leavenworth.

"People never forget your name," O'Hara said.

O'Hara, who grew up near Jarbalo, paid a visit to Tonganoxie with the society, the first meeting the group has had here.

"This was my idea," Alberta Heintzelman said.

The Leavenworth resident grew up 6 miles north of Tonganoxie, so any trip back home is fun.

"I love Tonganoxie," she said. "I came to the fair, too."

Once a woman reaches age 60, she automatically can be a member. The group even has a junior program of sorts. Women younger than 50 can be in the group, but they have to wear pink hats with their purple dresses.

Nora Van Allen, however, had no problem getting into the organization. Van Allen is 103 and loves making the monthly trip for a red-hat meal.

"Oh, sure," VanAllen said.

Daughter Bonnie Campbell, who also is a member, said her mother likes to travel.

"She enjoys going anywhere," Campbell said. "We're going to take a couple trips in the next couple weeks to Illinois, then Phillipsburg."

Sachse hopes the group can decide on a name for their unofficial chapter. Possibilities include Red-Hat Parolees and Spending Time in Leavenworth to reflect the federal penitentiary in their city.

Nonetheless, every member of the group was decked out at Bichelmeyer's with a red or pink hat and a purple dress, two seemingly simple items to locate. However, Sachse said those red hats are at a premium.

"It's hard to find a red hat, so some of us buy a hat, put it on the clothesline and paint it red," Sachse said.

Having the group has been an enjoyable experience, but Sasche thought there was an underlying reason for participation.

"I think we kind of do this to embarrass our daughters," she said.

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