Avon Club celebrates 75th anniversary

By LOIS THOMSON

The Avon Club will be celebrating its 75th anniversary with an Open House May 11 at the Ben Avon Borough Hall from 1 to 4 p.m. Presentations that capture Avonworth history and the impact the Avon Club has had in the community will be displayed; local representatives will be on hand to offer a tribute; and light refreshments will be served.

Looking back over the history of the Avon Club, it's difficult to decide what is the more amazing accomplishment: the work members have done or the fact that the club has lasted so long.

As president Kelly Kujawinski pointed out, "It was founded in 1944 as one of many women's groups that were around. What's really amazing about the club is its longevity. At that time, women's clubs were ubiquitous, every little borough and community had one. But over the years they folded, and I think it's really a testament to the club itself that it's still around and is still having such an impact on the community, even though we're a small community."

Kujawinski admits she doesn't know why the Avon Club survived when others closed, but she does know that "people just want to give back, and it's an opportunity to do that."

The club was founded on the premise of giving to others - specifically at the time, to support the war effort. Kujawinski said much research has been done to prepare for the 75th anniversary, and they discovered some of the biggest activities were corresponding with servicemen, rolling bandages for packages, knitting sweaters - "what you would consider to be typical at the time."

Since then, however, the club, which has about 75 members, has evolved into helping the communities of Ben Avon, Ben Avon Heights, Emsworth, Kilbuck, and Ohio Township. That help has come by way of a fund-raiser each year, with the money being given out in the form of grants. Each year community organizations are invited to apply for grants. The finance committee then reviews the applications and makes recommendations, and the club votes on how to disperse the funds.

Kujawinski said Meals on Wheels has been one of the biggest beneficiaries over the years. Local pre-schools also receive support, as do programs in the Avonworth School District. For its 50th anniversary, the club instituted a scholarship for a young woman who was graduating from high school to go toward her college education. That has since been expanded, both the amount given, and the number of girls, from one to three.

Kujawinski additionally said that she personally wrote an application asking the program for a middle school cross country club, because Avonworth didn't have one a number of years ago. "That became the seed money we were able to use to hire a coach. It filled a gap because soccer and football was all that they offered in the fall. It was so successful that the school district decided to adopt it as an official sport."

The club typically holds one big fund-raiser a year to acquire the money, and Kujawinski said this year it will be a holiday house tour Dec. 7. "We've been holding this house tour every other year, since the '90s. On the off years, we recently held a farm table event in the summers, and four or five years we held a gala. In the past, some of the fund-raisers were fashion shows, and we had a garden walk at one point; and one of my favorites was the doll house exhibit. Apparently members constructed doll houses and rented out the convention center to display them, and people would pay to go see them. At our open house on May 11, one of the doll houses will be there. It's interesting to see how the fund-raisers have evolved over time."

Kujawinski said one of the members on the committee did extensive research to find how much the club has raised over the years and she came back with a documented amount of more than $600,000. "It's an impressive number for a small community, and whatever we raise we give back to the community."

Getting to meet and become friends with different women is what Kujawinski said she likes best about the club. "It has given me an opportunity to interact and make friendships with women I wouldn't have ever run into - women who are older than I am, younger than I am, who I would not otherwise have had any way to get to know, and I really value that."

For more information on the Avon Club or its 75th anniversary celebration, visit avonclub.benavon.org/site.