Long-time Longburn Women's Institute to disband
MEMORY LANE: It's the end of an era for the Longburn Women's Institute, writes Tina White.
After 85 years of friendship, creativity and community service, the Longburn Women's Institute has disbanded.
Changing times and an ageing and dwindling membership have hastened this decision, its president Margaret Goodin explained this week.
The remaining six members, and one associate member, met for a farewell lunch at the Manawatu Golf Club on Friday.
However, "we all plan to stay in touch", Goodin adds.
The group's minute books and photos enshrine countless memories of activities and events, dating back to 1932.
In that year, on April 27, the Longburn branch of the still fairly new, then-named Dominion Federation of Women's Institutes was founded.
Its first 11 members were headed by president Mrs Lemberg and secretary Miss Bertha Zurcher.
The national organisation would change its name to the NZ Federation of Countrywomen's Institutes 20 years later, and then in 2004, back to Women's Institute, to reflect the no-longer exclusively rural membership.
Looking through the old Longburn minute books, a sense of past secretaries' personalities comes through. The minutes were written by hand with a fountain pen, and the handwriting changes as secretaries come and go through the years. Sometimes this writing is beautifully formed – a few entries seem to have been written in haste – other penmanship is large and looped, or small and precise.
The minute books also give a glimpse into World War II, with their carefully-kept records of baked goods, sealed in tins, and other comforts mailed to New Zealand soldiers overseas – including, in many cases, their own husbands, brothers or sons. This was a three-tier operation making good-to-eat items without strictly rationed butter or sugar, packing them, and then paying postage costs. For one month alone, for five parcels, the postage was £1.5s. 3d – a tidy sum in those days.
In the 1950s, Longburn, originally Karere, between Palmerston North and Opiki, was a bustling place, with the big freezing works a major employer in this township of burgeoning young families, farmers and longtime settlers.
The Goodin family lived "by the ramp – the hall on one side and the freezing works on the other", says Margaret Goodin. "My parents' house – where the big dairy factory is now – was a stables that had been converted into a home. I lived there until I got married." Her husband worked for Telecom.
Goodin's mother, Mrs Eileen Francis, was a keen member of the Institute, and so it was only natural that her daughter would sign up when she was old enough.
"It was such a busy community. There was always something going on at the hall," Goodin remembers. "There used to be four churches. Two have now been converted into homes.
"The railway went through the middle of Longburn – I used to catch a train to come into Palmerston North." Other amenities, now gone, were "a big laundry and a small post office, and the Weet-Bix factory on Walkers Rd. The only shop now is a general grocery store. The little dairy factory was moved away and the freezing works were closed [in 1987]. There are a lot more houses, now – even on the grassy space by the main highway.
"When I first started [at the women's institute], many women lived out on farms, a long way from neighbours. [Membership] meant a lot to them."
Goodin's own membership record is 40 years. Her daughter Anne is a craftsperson in the institute's tradition – her specialty is the intricate art of 3-D papercut work.
In its heyday, the Longburn Women's Institute met at least once a month, at 1.30pm in the local hall, or in the winter at each others' homes. During the 1950s alone, they attracted 59 new members, lifting membership to more than 300.
The official mandate, then as now, was to encourage leadership, community involvement, friendships, handicraft skills, choral and dramatic opportunities and floral art displays. Badges and medals were awarded for outstanding service and talent, in national competitions.
Today, "some people think all we do is bake scones and knit", says Goodin. Actually they do knit – scores of slippers for kindergartens.
But there's been even more important work going on quietly, behind the scenes, in the remaining members' service projects.
The craft group Goodin runs just made 60 fabric bags for mastectomy patients to put their drains in after operations. "They take them home. We go through 70 a week," she says. She's currently quilting and crocheting extra winter blankets for children.
Somewhat comfortingly, perhaps, Longburn isn't the only district with falling women's institute rolls.
"Even at National Federation level, membership numbers are dropping each year," Goodin reveals. In our increasingly busy world, she feels, the old skills are gradually being lost.
But the friendships forged in the Longburn group won't be lost any time soon. Even though their institute ties officially ended in December 2016, the women will still keep track of each other and meet regularly.
The precious minute books and photos will go to the Palmerston North library archives. As Margaret Goodin optimistically says: "I like to think of this not as a closure, but as a recess."