Note to readers: Barry Schrader’s “DeKalb County Life” column will appear on the first Tuesday of each month.
In 1898, Annie Glidden and a few other DeKalb women formed the Library Whist Club to raise money to buy books for the fledgling library, which had opened in 1893 in a room above the City Council chambers.
The club continues to meet today, but the original membership of 21 has been reduced to 12. There is a waiting list for those who would like to join, probably more difficult than getting into a P.E.O. chapter.
Originally the game was whist, but after a few years they changed to auction bridge, then contract bridge and later duplicate bridge, which they play today.
A Daily Chronicle article on the group’s history in 1993 reported they had donated 10,140 books by that time, so 20 years later the total must be near 11,000, but DeKalb Library Director Dee Coover said they have stopped counting.
Initially the club donated books only after members had perused them “to make sure they reflected the correct moral tone.” But after a few years, the city’s librarians were entrusted with making decisions on book selections. I wonder what they would have thought of “Catcher in the Rye” and “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” or even “Huckleberry Finn” in those early days.
The 12 women meet each Monday afternoon during the fall and winter for refreshments and some serious card playing. They rotate among members’ homes and have alternates or substitutes on call when a member cannot attend. Such was the case one day last month when I visited the club and two women were there as alternate players.
They elect a president, vice president, secretary and treasurer, as well as select a scorekeeper who totals the year’s cumulative scores to determine a winner. The scorekeeper for the past 10 years has been Elaine Johansen, who joined in 1975 at the invitation of the late Jane Bradt.
The late Charlie Bradt (Jane’s husband) once told me that in his teenage years he was allowed to fill in at the last minute when they were short of players. I recall Charlie still playing bridge at Oak Crest when he was almost 107; he passed away at age 108 two years ago.
The longest-tenured club member is Phyllis Moore, who joined 40 years ago. Her husband, Frank, like most other spouses, manages to leave the house each time she hosts the club and knows not to return until the women have departed, so he says.
In addition to Moore and Johansen, the other members are club President Fran Erickson, Marti Birkett, Shirley Johnson, Mary Pearson, Virginia Larsen, Nancy Mecklenburg, Bev Murphy, Barbara Sherman and Bonnie Yocum.
You’ve got to have a lot of respect for this group, staying together for 115 years, keeping focused on the goal of helping the library acquire more books, and enjoying themselves with a game of bridge along the way.
These women and thousands of other DeKalb residents have a monumental task ahead of them, trying to raise several million dollars in the next few months so the state grant for expanding the library can be secured.
• Barry Schrader can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or though P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL. 60115.