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Paynesville Press - November 26, 2003

Dressing in purple and red?

By Michael Jacobson

Have you seen a group of women - clad in purple, wearing red hats, laughing incessantly, and generally having a great time - lately?

Red Hat organizers If so, you were a witness to one of the two Red Hat Society clubs in the Paynesville area.

According to its website - - "the Red Hat Society began as a result of a few women deciding to greet middle age with verve, humor, and elan."

Organizing the new Red Hats are Pat Vagle, Janet Fleck, LaVonne Spanier, and Julie Bast, pictured with the red show/purple flower centerpiece they bring to events.

Locally, one group formed when four friends went out for supper after an afternoon bridge game. Doris Dodds, Mary Ann Erdmann, Carol Setterberg, and Mary Helen Torborg had such a good time that they decided to do it again, according to Torborg. Pretty soon, someone suggested they meet once a month. Then they started wearing red hats and purple clothing and formed a Red Hat club about 15 months ago.

The Red Hat Society is very democratic, said Torborg. No dues. No officers. Someone has an idea for something fun to do, and they do it.

They expanded their group to eight women - now including Audrey Bugbee, Mary Ann Chladek, Eileen Flanders, and Judy Savage as well - and have kept their membership at eight, wanting a smaller group to make it easier to find places to eat and to enable them to drive in two cars. "It's just a lot of fun," Torborg said. "When eight people walk into someplace with red hats, people go, "Ooh!"

Their group's most recent event was this weekend, when they went out for dinner in town and then went to the Christmas play at the auditorium. "I think it's just that we want to show people that even though we are getting older we can do young-thinking things," said Torborg, of the group's purpose. "We are young at heart."

The Red Hats, another local group, just formed this fall, organized by four women - Julie Bast, Janet Fleck, LaVonne Spanier, and Pat Vagle. (Bast and Fleck already belong to another Red Hat club in the New London area.)

Red Hat groups Spanier borrowed a red hat from Bast and had so much fun wearing it that she suggested they form a club here. Bast, Fleck, Spanier, and Vagle met in September to talk about organizing a local club. They held their first meeting with other members in October, drawing two dozen women with another half dozen expressing interest in joining.

This Red Hat club met for dinner and went to the local Christmas play on Friday night. Pictured are: (front) Mary Ann Chladek, Eileen Flanders, and Audrey Bugbee; (back) Mary Helen Torborg, Judy Savage, Mary Ann Erdmann, and Doris Dodds. Not pictured is Carol Setterberg.

They have decided to limit membership in the Red Hats to 40 women and to meet the first Tuesday of every month. Their next outing is Christmas caroling at 700 Stearns Place on Tuesday, Dec. 2, followed by going out for dinner.

They also intend to be flexible in choosing things to do and places to go. They are talking about seeking entertainment, like plays, or about overnight trips, when they could wear purple pajamas and a red house coat to go out for breakfast.

A couple of things are for sure: no one will host gatherings, and they will always eat out. "It's for women not to cook, clean, or entertain," explained Vagle. "It's just to go out and have fun."

Explaining the attraction of wearing red hats and purple clothes is difficult, the founders of the Red Hats agreed. Fleck said one nice thing about the Red Hat Society is that the sole purpose is to have a good time. There are no penalties, no guilt, if you miss an outing.

"It's just fun," said Bast.

Bast, Fleck, Spanier, and Vagle reported that they are now always on the lookout for more red hats and more purple clothing. While that combination might seem odd for one individual to wear, collectively it makes the group very recognizable. (Women under the age of 50 have it even worse: they must wear lavender and pink until turning 50.)

The Red Hat Society began when a California woman gave a red hat and a poem to a friend for her birthday. She liked it so much that she gave the same gift to several friends. Then they met for tea, and the Red Hat Society was born. It started to spread when one of the women told a friend in Florida, who started the second chapter.

Now, Red Hat societies have been formed in all 50 states and 20 foreign countries. In Minnesota alone, over 450 official chapters exist, according to the website, in nearly 200 cities.

Neither group in Paynesville is an official Red Hat club, but the Red Hats are considering paying the $35 fee to become an official club. Some members are already thinking about how much fun attending a national convention would be.

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