Connellsville Alpha Y Gradale celebrates 80 years

| Tuesday, June 11, 2013, 7:30 p.m.

Alpha Y Gradale, Connellsville Chapter members, are celebrating the club's 80th anniversary this year.

The group was chartered on April 19, 1933.

Gradale Sorority was organized in 1930 by a group of ladies in Towanda and spread across the state from there. When founded in Connellsville, the sorority was affiliated with and met at the B&O YMCA on South Pittsburgh Street, which was beside the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) where there is now a parking area. Over the years the organization grew to be in many other states where YMCAs were and so “Y” was added to the Gradale name in 1952 when it achieved national recognition and “sorority” was changed to “chapter.”

The first president of the Connellsville Chapter was Marian Fenstermacher. Dues were $1 annually and they met twice a month. The Y was sponsoring a “Passion Play” that October and Gradales were asked to help sell tickets. The club would receive 10 percent of each sale. The commission was $4.

Two delegates attended the Phalanx-Gradale Convention in Harrisburg in November, the per person charge was $6.45.

New member installation and initiation into Gradales is very formal, with candidates wearing white robes. Members of Gradales repeat the purpose of the organization at every meeting. It is nondenominational and offers a program that cultivates Christian ideals, attains Christian character and personality and emphasizes religion, personal growth, social activities and service to others. The insignia is four petals surrounding the Cross on a shield which symbolizes these attributes.

Service to others has had a high priority for the chapter. For many years members sponsored two disabled children to Camp Easter Seal for two weeks and monetary donations for leg braces. Annually on Valentine's Day residents of the former Fayette County Home were given gifts of bananas, valentines and heart-shaped cakes. This practice continues today at Lafayette Manor in Uniontown and South Connellsville Personal Care Home. Other projects included hand-sewn stuffed dolls and animals for Polka State Hospital and lap robes and blankets made by members and sent to Church World Service, nursing homes and those whose homes were destroyed by fire. A quilt was made and sent to Korea to support a YMCA project called “Quilts for Korea.” More recent projects include donations to Toys For Tots, Carnegie Free Library, Wesley Health Center, Salvation Army and soup kitchen, Highlands Hospital van fund, Girl Scout Little House, Christmas lighting fund, Chestnut Hill and Hill Grove cemeteries and American Cancer Fund.

Instead of having a gift exchange each Christmas, the ladies hold a Birthday for Baby Jesus and bring clothing and gifts to be given to newborns in Uniontown and Excela Health Frick hospitals. The group has also given scholarships and been instrumental in Red Cross blood drives in the past, among numerous other projects.

As a World Service Project, nickels are collected at every meeting and sent annually to a Sioux Indian reservation in South Dakota through the state YMCA in Waynesboro.

Currently a monthly donation of food is purchased and delivered to Connellsville Area Community Ministries food pantry. Expired cents-off coupons are being sent to military bases overseas and coupon inserts and ads are sent to Goodwill for paper recycling.

To support these projects, many types of fundraisers have been held.

Members have sold candy, purses and baked goods. Home parties of all kinds have been hosted in addition to card parties, style shows, bus trips, a Tom Thumb wedding and traveling baskets. The group always had a table at Nationality Days in Connellsville and joined with the male membership of Phalanx to run the concession stand at East Park.

“These activities provided funds, entertainment, amusement and, looking back now, many treasured memories,” said Kitty Reed-Strawn, president of Alpha Y Gradale, Connellsville Chapter.

At one time there were 21 Chapters in Pennsylvania. Only five remain. Connellsville has had three chapters over the years — Delta, Beta and Alpha.

The special celebration of 80 years was held at the Church of God with members and invited guests including nine of the Scottdale Beta Chapter members who will celebrate their 75th anniversary later this year.

Reed-Strawn welcomed the group and read several congratulatory cards and donations that had been received. Eleanor Huggins gave the invocation. Introductions were made by Dorothy Ridgway and regrets by Faye Bowman. A covered dish dinner was held. Vocal selections were presented by Lisa and Valerie Bowman, granddaughter and great-granddaughter of member Faye Bowman. Ridgway baked and decorated the sheet cake for dessert. Everyone in attendance formed a circle to sing “Blest Be the Tie That Binds.” The benediction was given by Bonnie Bankes. A collection of old photos and memorabilia were on display.

The officers of Alpha Y Gradale in this 80th year are Reed-Strawn, president; Bankes, vice president; Faye Bowman, secretary; Ridgway, treasurer; and Huggins, chaplain.

The program booklet listed all 80 of the past presidents. A few are Edna Keslar, Margaret Angle, Nell Clark, Marie Louderbaker, Jane Lansberry, Marguerite Fitzgerald, Virginia Fornwalt, Martha Witt, Ethel Yeager, Anagrace Witt, Virginia Leighty, Beatrice Prinkey, Betty Jane Furtney, Melva Roland and Betty Brothers, who is still a member today at 90 years old.

The Alpha Y Gradales, Connellsville Chapter meets twice a month and welcomes new members. They meet with four other chapters twice a year — Scottdale, Lebanon and two chapters in Waynesboro. A spring rally is held each year. It was hosted by Waynesboro Beta and held in Hagerstown. Members meet at Deer Valley YMCA Camp at Mt. Davis each year after Labor Day. This will be the 35th year of meeting there.

The Connellsville Chapter has had four state presidents: Lois Hileman, Ridgway, Reed-Strawn and Eleanor Adey.

Current members of Alpha Y Gradale are Bankes, Ruth Basinger, Faye Bowman, Brothers, Huggins, Donna Michaels, Reed-Strawn, Ridgway, Roland, Carmie Rozell and Jane Scolnick.

Nancy Henry is a freelance writer.

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