Donald Promnitz/The Madera Tribune
Members of the Southeast Garden Club Dinner gather during their annual scholarship fundraiser dinner
Over the past 65 years, the Southeast Garden club has become an important part of the Madera community through its charity work and support of higher education.
“The organization was founded by a group of ladies, and these ladies had the desire to help promote and establish education,” club member Wilhelmenia Fryer said. “At that time it [the scholarship program] was just for black students.”
The club’s first meeting was held in May 1952 in the home of Lucille Hughes, who was one of the five founders. The other founders were Alberta Blackburn, Marie Edwards-Jackson, Nellie C. Nelson and Ruby V. Schmidt. To this day, meetings are still held in different members’ homes on the third Monday of each month.
The club has been handing out scholarships since its founding. Fryer said the first scholarship was for the amount of $25. It was presented to Ida Chapman, who later earned a degree from Sacramento State.
“For the last five years, I think, we’ve been able to raise our scholarship funds up to $1,000 per kid,” said club president Maxine Barnett.
Fryer said three to five scholarships are now handed out each year and the amount of scholarships that have been given out since the club began is well over 200.
The club handed out four scholarships in 2015, one of which was given to 2015 Madera South High School graduate Chandon Brown.
“It really just gave me the opportunity to start my life over,” said Brown, who is attending Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa.
Brown added that he was having trouble with his financial aid being processed when he began college and the scholarship money helped him pay for textbooks during his first semester.
Scholarships used to be handed out only to black students and a student qualified based on how much money their family made.
“Now, we don’t do that,” Fryer said. “It’s your grade point average (that) is what we go by now. Your family can make all the money, we don’t care what color you are, what nationality.”
The scholarships go primarily to students from Madera and the process of applying is done through the student’s high school. The club then receives and reviews the applications before choosing the recipients.
The club used to raise money through what was called a Pink Tea, Fryer said. The club gathered donations at a tea, which was held in a member’s yard.
Now, the club holds banquets to raise money.
“We do the scholarship banquet at the golf course in Madera,” Barnett said. “We have dinner and then we auction off certain items that different members have donated through the club or that different people would donate to us to auction off and that’s the way we raise our money.”
Items that have been donated in the past include vases, homemade ceramic items, gift baskets, wine baskets and gift certificates. Barnett said someone donated a small barbecue pit.
According to the Southeast Garden Club history, past members worked hard in their gardens, exchanging plants and bulbs to help beautify each other’s homes. They then took their experience and joy of gardening out into the community.
In the past, the club has donated over $1,000 to beautification/improvement of Courthouse Park and members have planted flowers at McNally Park, Martin Luther King Middle School and the Madera District Fairgrounds.
Today, with members ranging in age from 76 to 97, the club doesn’t do as much gardening, but to uphold tradition, Barnett said they do make time to admire various members’ flower beds when they have meetings.
The club now primarily focuses on handing out scholarships and supporting various charities. A few of those charities include the Madera Rescue Mission, Mollie’s House and the Alzheimer’s Association, which puts on the Walk to End Alzheimer’s that Barnett walks in.
Barnett said the club, which has 14 members, is always looking for new people. To join, one should contact Barnett (674-1695) who will then set up an interview. She said so far she has never turned anyone down.
Selina Falcon is a student in Gary Rice’s community journalism class at California State University, Fresno.