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The Daily



09-12-03 Red hat fever strikes


Lois Shirk and her friends tend to draw raised eyebrows and odd comments when they congregate at local restaurants.
But the Minster-area women don’t mind. When all 13 ladies don red hats and purple outfits, they know they’re bound to get stares.
“People ask us if we’re a singing group and they always tell us how much they like our hats,” laughed Shirk, 78, who lives near Lake Loramie.
The Auglaize County women are two-year members of one of several local chapters of the Red Hat Society, a fun-loving group of women — typically 50 and over — who’ve discovered how to age gracefully together.
Approximately 150 local women have joined chapters in Minster, Fort Recovery, Coldwater, St. Henry, Celina, St. Marys and Wapakoneta. Thousands of women worldwide have joined the ranks.
The purple clothing and eye-catching ruby hats (pink hats and lavender clothing are worn by the under 50 set) are the trademark of the international club, which began just a few years ago in the California area.
The only stipulation set for the thousands of chapter members worldwide is for the women to wear the bold color combination when gathering in public.
There are no dues to pay, no fund-raisers, no minutes recorded of their time together. And that’s what the women love best about the group — there are no rules.
“We are a group without restrictions,” Wapakoneta resident Marge Brandt said with a laugh, as she and 11 other members of the Classic Chicks of 1948 and Friends ate lunch together in New Bremen this week. “And we never have to worry about what to wear.”
Brandt, an accomplished artist, has earned the title of Mother Hen and loves the reference. She read about the Red Hat Society in a magazine several years ago and decided to start her own chapter with about eight or nine high school classmates — hence the 1948.
The women, like most other groups, meet once a month to dine, take in a show or travel. They don’t discuss negative topics like wrinkles and arthritis; only positive conversation is welcome, she said smiling.
The national Red Hat Society was founded when a woman named Sue Ellen Cooper — the organization’s Queen Mother — purchased a dashing red fedora from a thrift shop and later stumbled upon a poem titled “Warning” by Jenny Joseph:
“When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple ... With a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me ... ,” the poem reads.
The verse is about a woman who longs to wear the color purple, which in days gone by was too conservative for woman of stature. She also envisions a time in her future when she can spend her money recklessly, “pick the flowers in other people’s gardens” and “learn to spit.”
Cooper later gave a vintage red hat and the poem to a friend who passed the gift idea on to another friend, etc., and soon the group was born.
Many of the local women contacted by The Daily Standard said the toughest part of being a Red Hat lady is, well, finding a red hat. In a market lacking red headpieces, many of them purchase plain straw hats and spray-paint them their favorite shade of red.
Marilyn Oman of Celina, who just started the Grand Lake Chapter in June, hasn’t spent her time hat hunting.
“I found a bunch of them at the antique stores in Wapakoneta,” she said proudly.
Oman said finding a purple dress proved more difficult for her until she stumbled upon one in Columbus. Other members said there are plenty of stores in the malls and bigger cities that specifically cater to the Red Hat women with attire such as jewelry, shoes, handbags and clothing.
Oman said her husband, Richard, is taking the whole idea in stride.
“He’s starting a Red Hat auxiliary. They don’t wear hats, though. They just go out to eat,” she said with a grin.
Rita Knapschaefer of Coldwater is awaiting her start-up packet after signing up two weeks ago as Queen of the Buzzard’s Glory chapter.
“I have eight sisters and four sisters-in-law who I hope to talk into this,” Knapschaefer said chuckling. “I think it’s the most fun thing.”
Knapschaefer, a business co-owner, said she discovered The Red Hat Society while attending a vendor’s warehouse in Columbus. “All of this ‘red stuff’ was there,” she said.
“I’ve always told my sisters I can’t wait until hats come back in and I can’t wait to wear purple. It’s such a carefree thing,” she said.
Knapschaefer, 48, said the idea behind the group, as she explained recently to her skeptical husband, is to make women feel better about themselves as they age. And of course, to have fun.
“We should be laughing more at this time in our lives, not complaining about our husbands or our health,” she said.
The Red Hat Beauties of Fort Recovery — 15 in all — began in April by Queen Marianne Remaklus who got a tip about the club from her sister-in-law in Eaton. A widow, Remaklus said it’s nice to try out different restaurants once in a while, and get a chance to “talk, talk, talk” to other women.
“Of course widows are prone to this kind of group, but they’re certainly not the only ones,” Remaklus said. “We’re all friends. But now that we get a chance to meet regularly, we’re getting to be even better friends.”
— For more information on the Red Hat Society and chapters in your area, check out the group’s Web site at www.redhatsociety.com.


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