One day soon after, we were settled into our home and a little envelope showed up in the mail. When I opened it, I saw it was an invitation to join the Service League of Cherokee County.
I was so excited by the invitation, but I was also nervous. The Service League was an organization that expected a lot of its members in time and effort.
As a new mother, it seemed I could barely get everything done that needed doing. The thought of being in an organization that worked with needy children, raised funds, had a thrift shop and many other projects in the community was intimidating to say the least.
But I didn’t hesitate. I accepted, and I am so glad I did. The 10 years I spent in the Service League were rewarding and it was such a major part of my life.
In those years, we started publishing a cookbook, worked on a million projects and started Riverfest.
I can’t call it a club because it is so much more. Most of what we did was case work, helping families who were experiencing tough times feed and clothe their children, and pay for medical emergencies if they could not afford the cost.
We would buy eyeglasses for children, make sure babies had formula and diapers, pay rent if a mother and her young ones were about to be evicted, or make sure they had heat in the dead of winter.
We also celebrated the 25th anniversary of the group.
The Service League was formed on March 28, 1935, to assist needy children and conduct charity work in the community. The first officers were President Mrs. R. Tyre Jones; Vice President Mrs. H.G. Vandiviere, Recording Secretary Mrs. J.E. Darnell, Corresponding Secretary Mrs. Ed Garlington, Treasurer Miss Mary Lee Johnston and ways and means, Mrs. Rube Jones, Mrs. A.V. Jones Jr., Mrs. John S. Wood and Miss Blanche Jones.
To raise funds in the early days, the organization conducted a bridge and rook tournament at the Hotel Canton. Later, they held several fundraisers, including plays to raise money for milk at the public school for underprivileged children. In 1949, the organization started the Milk Fund Ball at the Canton Golf Club to raise money to help in the needs. Admission was $1.50 per couple.
But by the 1980s, we needed a lot more money than that to meet the needs of families. That is when we thought up Riverfest.
The annual arts and craft show was the brainchild of Pat Gold. In those days, we met in the fellowship hall in the old Canton First Methodist Church basement.
We sat in a circle in some sort of pecking order. Meetings were intimidating, new ideas hard to sell. Newer members were expected to be seen, not heard.
But suddenly the kernel of a good idea began to grow. The project was approved and off and running.
Now all these years later, I am so glad to have been a little part of that first Riverfest.
We didn’t know what to expect. Would anyone sign up to exhibit? With a lot of hard work to convince the crafters and artists, they did.
Then the weekend dawned. Would anyone show up? They did, about 5,000 of them.
And they liked it. It wasn’t so much different that first year than it is all these years later. Better now, for sure. But Riverfest 2011 is in the same location, with the same air of anticipation and excitement as set up begins, and the same high standard of excellence.
Great food, great entertainment, fabulous exhibitors, a fun children’s area and the special feel of early fall that says its Riverfest weekend.
Best of all, through all these years, Riverfest has helped the children in need in our community. The dollars stay here and they go directly to help those youngsters who need aid.
Each year, young women who are members don their Riverfest shirts and leave their own children with their husbands, or better yet drag them all down to Boling Park to work. And they know it is worth it.
Worth the time and worth the effort.
For the rest of us, it is just a good time. It is Riverfest time.
Rebecca Johnston is former editor of The Cherokee Tribune.