Kevin Slimp: Lennox Valley: Peculiar habits: The ladies of the Auburn Hat Society

By Kevin Slimp

Syndicated Columnist

Outside church organizations, there were only three prominent civic groups in Lennox Valley during my teenage years.

The VFW post was formed in the 1920s by local veterans who served in the Spanish-American War and World War I. A focus of the group was to foster camaraderie among United States veterans of overseas conflicts.

In the 1960s, a few local citizens formed the Ruritan Club. Never quite as prominent as the VFW, the Ruritans’ motto was, “To serve The Valley with fellowship, goodwill, and community service.”

While both espoused civic duty, there was a third group in our community which seemed to attract more attention than either the VFW or Ruritans.

The Auburn Hat Society of Lennox Valley was made up of women, 50 years and older, who possessed qualities befitting members of such a society. One requirement of membership was to wear a bright auburn hat to each meeting.

Occasionally women younger than 50 asked to take part in Society gatherings. They were sometimes allowed to participate, as long as they wore a light orange fedora. Fedoras of such colors being difficult to find, it was rare younger women attended the meetings. Outsiders often commented the requirement was simply to keep them out of the group.

There was a reason for this. The secrets of the Auburn Hat Society were tightly guarded. Meetings took place at various places, but always in public areas. Since no outsiders were allowed in the group, only members of the Society knew what important matters were discussed. Not even husbands were privy to inside information.

To nonmembers, the obvious question was “Why meet in public if your meetings are secret?”

The question alone indicates they have missed the point entirely, because the real reason for the existence of the Auburn Hat Society was twofold: To be seen and to have fun being seen.

At the October meeting of the Auburn Hat Society, Vera Pinrod sported a bright auburn cowboy hat. Once awarded National Auburn Hatter of the Year, the highest honor bestowed on a member, Vera took great care to be a model president. Wanda Jones donned a tulle-trimmed affair that stood out among the group.

Before the days of Google, outsiders had few resources to learn about the Society. Little did they know the official purpose of the Auburn Hatters was to “promote periods of respite from the cares and drudgery of everyday life in which members gather for no other purpose than to play.”

The October meeting was an especially celebratory affair, as the club took a “journey” to Springfield, our county seat, to feast at Red Lobster.

With only a couple of eateries in The Valley, it was quite a treat to travel 16 miles for dinner at a luxurious restaurant. Though she was normally the most vocal opponent of alcohol being served in Valley eating establishments, Vera either forgot her reservations concerning “the Devil’s brew” while out of town or simply stuck by her assertion strawberry mojito was “nothing more than Sprite with a kick.”

Official business consisted of selecting a parade queen to represent the Society in the upcoming Valley Christmas parade. Helen Walker, parade queen for the previous 11 years was nominated and selected in less than 40 seconds, leaving ample time to enjoy mojitos and traipse around the restaurant in their flamboyant headgear.

An unstated rule was each member took a “royal potty break” at least twice during dinner to allow diners to admire their headwear and wonder what important business was being carried out in secret.

As the group left Red Lobster, Vera stopped in her tracks, watching a silver Dodge Stratus pulling out of the parking lot.

“Did anyone else see that?” she asked.

“See what?” asked Rhonda Graham.

“That car. I’m sure I saw Raymond Cooper and A.J. Fryerson in that car.”

“How many ‘Sprites with a kick’ did you have?” bellowed Helen Walker.

The parade of Auburn Hatters roared with laughter, but Vera stood still, contemplating what she was sure she had just seen.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The original idea for “The Good Folks of Lennox Valley” by Kevin Slimp came while visiting with a friend from the small town of Lennox, S.D., several years ago. For five years, Slimp jotted ideas concerning the folks who lived in his fictional home town and eventually put those ideas into stories. Share your thoughts with Candy Allan via email at callan@pioneergroup.com or by phone at (231) 592-8386.

Leave a Reply