Friday, February 22, 2008

Branch Historian Interviews Mary Gelhaus

This month Bernie Carpino interviewed Mary Gelhaus. Mary has been a member since 1963 and has served in a variety of capacities including branch president from 1989 to 1992.

Mary Gelhaus is a wonderful source of AAUW information. Mary’s mother had been an AAUW member so Mary was quick to join the Kingston Branch when she moved here. She has been a member of our branch since July, 1963.

Adelaide Van Wagenen gave her rides to meetings which were then held at the YWCA.

In her second year of membership, Mary was asked to be Treasurer. She remembered that National began using spreadsheets to track membership dues during that time.

Communication also underwent changes. The newsletter was originally churned out on a mimeograph machine. In the 80’s it was done by a non-member for a nominal fee until Mary began doing it on the computer. Due to postage costs, it was decided to print bi-monthly rather than monthly. Among other contributions, Mary did the Directory for three years, finding it often difficult to get all the necessary information.

In the late 80’s leadership became a problem – younger women were not joining and some members had dropped out because of National’s very aggressive pro-abortion ads.

Jean Guzewich agreed to be president to keep the organization alive. (1987-89) Next Mary took over the position (1989-92) with Veronica Rafferty helping with programming. Mary instituted Saturday morning membership coffees; membership gradually increased and new leaders emerged.

Mary recalls AAUW’s involvement in community affairs.

  • As an advocate for the Library, a film was made to be shown to community groups at the time the library was moving to its present location.
  • Members assisted Ulster Literacy with a project in which members would rewrite a news story so it could be used as a teaching aid.
  • A panel and study on child abuse chaired by Edna Vickers was a catalyst for awareness and change.
  • Members visited the homeless shelter and prepared and served a meal to the residents.

Social connections are important to AAUW members and Mary is no exception. She speaks fondly of June picnics, the Christmas potluck dinners with spouses attending and doing the clean-up. Fellowship was generated in attending performances at UPAC and other venues.

Mary feels AAUW is doing well locally. Nationally membership has dropped and Mary thinks there is too much emphasis on a mission-based approach.

What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. I'm a new member and the two reasons compelling me to join were:
    1) the amazing stories the older members told about their lives. I knew these would be great women to know.
    2) the mission-driven nature of the material I found on the web about AAUW. Advocating for women and girls is very important to me.