The last of an era-- members of the Taylors Falls Women’s Civic League are: in front row, left to rt: Geri Nelson, President Priscilla Wegner (she gets to wear the royal cape), Sister Maria Nelson and Annie Lindgren. In back row, left to rt. Joanne Frank, Cynthia Holmberg, Edna Curry, Jean Sampson, Carol Johnson and Geri Swanson. Photo by Denise Martin
This year’s Royal Lady selection for the Taylors Falls Lighting Festival marks a first and a last in the annals of Royal Ladydom. The Taylors Falls Women’s Civic League will fold at the end of 2012. After 100 years of existence the membership is dwindling and the club can’t be sustained in its traditional form. To recognize the group’s century of service, the Royal Lady title is being presented for the first time to more than one Taylors Falls woman. All the remaining active league members will ride in a wagon provided by Jim Elbe, and lead the city’s lighting festival parade on mainstreet tomorrow, November 23. The parade features lighted costumes, schoolkids, local celebrities animals and much more. (See Lighting Festival upcomings for details.) Co-chair of the Festival Committee, Barb Young, said each civic league member could be Royal Lady in her own right; based on selection criteria calling for outstanding contributions towards making Taylors Falls a fine place to live. (A couple of the Women’s Civic League members have in fact, worn the red velvet cape of the Royal Lady-- Edna Curry in 1994 and Jean Sampson in 1998.) The civic league ladies gathered inside Chisago House restaurant last week to talk about their projects, their field trips, the beautification efforts around town and the bittersweet end to the league, but certainly not to their friendships. The theme for the Lighting Festival this year is “All Aboard.” The commemorative and collectible ornament for 2012 features a sepia-toned photo of the Taylors Falls railroad depot in its heyday.
A major focus of the Women’s Civic League energies over the years involved the depot. They were active in maintaining and later rehabbing the old train depot as it evolved into the Memorial Community Center. A favorite fundraiser was The Birthday Calendar, which the Civic League compiled and had printed for 51 years. Cynthia Holmberg, a league member since 1958, said people paid 25 cents to put a person’s name and birthday on the calendar and town businesspeople also bought advertising space. The ladies are still appreciative of local business contributions, declaring that they alone couldn’t have raised enough money for projects without community support. In a good year that birthday calendar might bring in $1,000. League member Joanne Frank also recalls decorating inside the Folsom House. As late as just last year, the Civic League would take one room inside the historic homesite on Angel Hill and be responsible for transforming it with old fashioned Christmas decor for public Holiday tours. The Taylors Falls overlook and city public sites also got garbage cans and plantings courtesy of the Women’s Civic League. Back in the day there were altruistic women’s groups active in small towns everywhere in America, explained Geri Nelson. Carol Johnson said she belonged to a club in Chisago City before the Taylors Falls league, where she’s now lived for about 20 years. Sister Maria Wilson remembers joining when one of the members, now departed, came to her home and convinced her to come to a league luncheon meeting. That was 17 years ago.
The Civic League’s final figurehead is 2012 President Priscilla Wegner. She said she first visited Taylors Falls when her grandparents had the Truesdell House near the library. She recalls waving to the train conductor as the trains passed by her grandparents’ place. She moved into this home in the 1970s and has been a league member since 1988. Wegner’s grandmother also was the first president of the Women’s Civic League, when it formed in 1912. The continuity of the league’s storyline doesn’t stop there. Geri Nelson shared that in researching civic league archives she learned that 100 years ago there was a big hew-and-cry for a restroom at the state park, an issue the group got behind and tried to resolve. “They thought they’d raise some money and buy a postage stamp-sized piece of land for a bathroom,” Geri relates of that group of league founders. “And, here we are 100 years later and Taylors Falls still could use more public bathrooms,” she laughed.