Civic Betterment Club celebrates 100 years

Jeffrey Hage / Union-Eagle Current Civic Betterment Club president Judy Barnes waves to the crowd during the 2013 Rum River Festival Parade.
Jeffrey Hage / Union-Eagle
Current Civic Betterment Club president Judy Barnes waves to the crowd during the 2013 Rum River Festival Parade.


Princeton Civic Betterment Club members are observing a century of bettering the community through countless projects that have supported children, education, the hospital, military troops, the library, the needy, parks and more.

The club’s mission statement is “to further the best interest of the community and for the betterment of humanity.”

The organization began as the Women’s Club of Princeton in Sept. 1914 by joining the Minnesota State Federation of Women’s Clubs through the Federation’s Anoka unit.

Judy Barnes, the civic club’s president, said the Civic Betterment Club name was given in 1915. Twenty members paid dues the first year in the club, which now has 50-70 members.

Setting up a public restroom for the women who came to town to shop when their husbands were there on business was one of the first projects the club spearheaded. The restroom was in the lower level of what is now the Phil Lingle dental building in the downtown. It had a matron to oversee it and a maintenance plan.

One of the activities the club is most noted for the past couple decades is Santaville, a Christmas shop for children to buy mostly handmade Christmas gifts at affordable prices. Refreshments, an appearance by Santa and sometimes a puppet theater have also been part of Santaville.

The club originally conducted a different kind of Christmas event where the owner of the original Strand Theater in town let children in free for a couple movies, and the club gave the kids bags of treats.

Now the club is going full circle, returning to its roots. Barnes explained that the club’s aging members can no longer make the 4,000 gifts for Santaville like they once did. Therefore the club this approaching holiday season will be replacing Santaville with Santaville’s Old Fashioned Christmas, which will feature a theater production.

Helping the unfortunate

A common theme in the club’s projects has been helping the needy.

Club member Gloria Bromberg said she is impressed by the club’s history of generosity, recalling the time the club gave a needy woman a washing machine.

The club once had a cemetery committee that helped clean up the city’s Oak Knoll Cemetery and donated a water pump, a wagon and a maintenance building to Oak Knoll.  It was the Civic Club that named the streets at the cemetery, bought the land for Triangle Park, provided dinners for troops going off to war and gave them a basket lunch during welcome-home receptions. It also raised money to build a soldiers monument.

It was the same club that gave garden seeds to children to encourage them to grow produce for county fair exhibits, entertained a glee club, raised money for school bands, gave money for memorials and sponsored university lyceum courses.

The club conducted a baby welfare project that involved decorating store fronts with nursery rhymes and other child-related themes. One year it introduced a school program called Be Kind to Animals.

The club conducted countless fundraisers, including helping the Red Cross and assisting that organization during blood drives. The club sometimes took on an advocacy role, like when it urged the railroad to clean up railroad right of way and pressed the city to cut the weeds in alleys. The armory was one of the many places in town where the club planted flowers.

The club donated money for a scholarship for needy girls and gave Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets to the needy. One year the club repaired all the shoes given to the town’s charity closet.

The club got involved in school events, giving receptions for teachers and putting on concerts.

The club helped shut-ins, the aged and inmates. The club had a party for “old folks at the county home” during its fiscal year 1929-30. It also donated 1,375 articles of clothing, a layette, some mattresses and a couple of beds.

During its 1930-31 year, the Civic Club introduced Spanish teaching into one of the schools. During its 1932-33 year, the club planted a tree in Memorial Park in memory of George Washington and placed a stone bench there in memory of former member Anna Milbrandt and added three more benches at the park.

The following year, the club purchased eye wear for children of needy families. The club once contracted with the town’s Rod and Gun Club to raise the water west of the dam in Riverside Park to make a swimming hole.

During 1934 the club purchased 125 Rosy Morn petunias for a flower bed at the city’s main downtown intersection. Now the intersection of Rum River Drive and First Street, back then it was the intersection of Highways 95 and 169 at Princeton before both were rerouted. The club also worked with the state highway department in planting petunias at another intersection and contributed to paying for street decorations.

A newspaper story in 1957 reported the club’s bake sale at the Chevrolet garage netted $70 for a foreign student fund.

The club for many years maintained a rose garden next to the hospital lot when the hospital occupied what is now the school district office building. Each rose was planted in memory of someone.

Warm atmosphere encouraged

A speech by a guest at one of the club’s luncheons in 1957 was called “Let your hearts be warm within you.” The speaker, Mrs. Clifford Boies, of Robbinsdale, suggested: “Anyone entering a home or a club meeting is generally acutely conscious of the atmosphere, whether it is chilly or there is a feeling of fine, warm hospitality.”

She added that the Civic Club women “have every reason in the world to have their meetings marked by the latter spirit.”

Barnes said that when she found the club’s 1914-58 meeting minutes at the local history museum and read them, it “just amazed” her.

“It kind of took my breath away to see all the things these ladies did to bring this town to what it is,”  she said.

Future of the club

June Kunkel, who has been with the club for nearly 30 years and helped recruit some of its members, called it a great organization that is challenged to carry on with its aging membership and not enough new members. Kunkel suggested that more women, even men, consider joining the club. She said she knows of many who have enjoyed it once joining. The club has bylaws and a structure where you can be an associate member if unable to devote a lot of time to club projects.

Bromberg commented that a large number of women many decades ago perhaps had more time for civic work because they didn’t have to work outside the home to help support the family.

Also, a lot of the civic club members were wives of business people and could see the town’s needs more, Barnes added.

“It seems they were proud of what they did and wrote it down,” member Char Kramersmeier said.

“If everybody in town could read the meeting minutes because it is so full of history and what the ladies put themselves out to do,” Barnes said. “The whole idea was to help the community.”

Now with the challenge of getting new members, many of the club’s stalwarts “are getting burned out,” Bromberg said.

“My problem is if I get started on something, I have to finish it whether others are there or not,” Barnes said.

“Our generation believes that if we can’t do it right, don’t do it,” Kramersmeier said. “If no one steps up, sometimes you’ve got to do it.”

“I love it,” Barnes said of the club’s work.

“I figure as long as I’m helping, I’ll contribute to any organization I’m in,” Kramersmeier said.

Barnes recalled her start with the club. A letter was sent to her workplace in 2001 that said help was needed at Santaville, so she decided to check it out. Her husband had died on Aug. 3 that year, and she found that, by getting involved in the club, it helped her keep going emotionally.

Being in the club certainly can be fun, Bromberg said. She talked about her ride atop the club’s float in this year’s Rum River Festival parade wearing a crown for being the club’s member of the year. It was her first time being in a parade and she enjoyed hearing people shout her name, she said.