By SHELLEY GRIESHOP
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
“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
“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
“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,”
“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
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.