Allegheny Township Community Club connected through family ties, purpose
The Allegheny Township Community Club was formed in May 1939 by a small group of related women interested in improving their community.
The group hasn't changed much in the past 75 years: Even the members who aren't related by blood are connected through kinship and purpose.
“When you join, you become like a member of a family,” said Teresia Billak, the club president.
Billak said the Community Club has acted as a “welcoming committee” for newcomers to Allegheny Township — something she experienced firsthand when she moved there about 30 years ago.
“When I first came here, I didn't know where to go for things,” she said. “They guided me and told me where things were at.”
Billak first approached the club seeking assistance for a neighbor whose daughter had leukemia.
She said the club continues to find ways to help the community, whether it's assisting a family recovering from a house fire, sponsoring a holiday party or organizing a food drive.
“We just support the community — whatever comes up,” she said.
Community building is testament to the club
The club's original mission, and arguably its biggest accomplishment, was establishing a central meeting place in the rural township for community groups.
The women went from gathering in members' homes to an empty school and then a doctor's office.
After buying, then selling, two parcels of land, the club ultimately acquired about 5 acres of former farmland along what is now the Route 56 Bypass.
In the mid-1970s, the club turned the land over to the township on the condition that a community building with dedicated meeting space for the club be erected on the site.
The precursor to today's Allegheny Township Community Building opened in 1979.
The club's influence can be seen throughout the property: from several dozen trees lining the driveway to a bench, pavilion and other amenities around the building and ball fields.
The club went through a few turbulent years in the early 2000s, when township officials wanted to expand the building but needed the deed fully in the township's name. Club members were resistant, concerned they and other groups could someday be blocked from using the building they and their predecessors had worked for decades to secure.
After nearly four years of litigation, the dispute was settled in 2004, when the township offered the club a long-term agreement to provide meeting space.
“We're still here, and that's what we fought for,” said Ronda Dibas, as she and other members gathered at the building on Wednesday during an anniversary celebration. Dibas was club president during part of the dispute.
Generations of members
Her sister, Judy Schaffer, said she can remember going to club meetings as a child when their mother, the late Marian Schaffer, was a member. All three have served as club president.
“We're like a dynasty,” Schaffer said. “We grew up doing stuff in the club.”
Judy Schaffer pointed to her mother's name on a large quilt in the community building.
Club members crafted the wall-hanging in 1989 to commemorate the club's 50th anniversary.
She recalled earlier days when club members would spend hours at the former Zimmerman farm along Shearsburg Road, stirring the apple butter that raised money for the club's activities.
Lillian Gabelli, 90, said her mother, Bertha Artman, was one of the charter members along with other women in the Artman family. Gabelli remembers going to meetings as a child.
“It was always the second Wednesday of the month, even then,” Gabelli said.
Gabelli recalled darning socks and learning about gardening and home improvement at club meetings — particularly useful knowledge to families still recovering from the Great Depression.
Gabelli said she is no longer active in the club, though she still tries to assist with food drives: “Whenever they give to the food bank, I think that's very important. It hurts my heart to think of children being hungry.”
Several of the nearly two dozen club members on Wednesday looked at past photos of the club when it was larger and expressed concern for the Community Club's future.
“We're getting older, so it's getting less active,” Billak said. “We meet in the daytime; most women now work during the day.”
But there is hope: Jennifer Queck, 21, became the newest member when she was introduced during the anniversary banquet.
Queck joins her grandmother, Hazel Glass, and mother, Vicki Queck, as members.
“My sister and I have been coming since we were little,” Jennifer Queck said.
Glass said she hopes the club can continue to thrive so her granddaughter has the opportunity to reflect on the club's accomplishments years from now.
Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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