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Womens Club of Springfield Reaches the big 5-0

After 50 years, the members of the Women's Club of Springfield Inc. have seen a lot of things pass through the doors of their Pink Elephant Thrift Store. But nothing was quite as memorable as the sterling silver waffle iron. A thrift store treasure hunter snatched it up in a second.

"We put it out for sale with a three-dollar sign on it," said Janet Crupper, a founding member and current co-president with her daughter Susan Edson.

A man up the street turned the waffle iron into a jewelry box, Crupper remembered.

"It was beautiful. He laughed, and we laughed with him," Crupper said.

The Pink Elephant has been the club's fund-raiser for the past 40 years and remains a centerpiece in the club, as well as a place to go, for members and residents in the area.

"It's been there 40 years, and the Women's Club owned it for 30 years," Crupper said. "In the 30 years, we've given back close to $400,000 to the community."

As part of the club dues, each member has to put in one day a month at the Pink Elephant Thrift Store, located in the Concord Shopping Center in central Springfield. Besides the store, the club also raises money through its spring fair, recycling efforts, and other fund-raisers. Edson was 11 when the shop opened and has grown up with it.

Ruth Weiss and Pat Milot were on their second weekend working the shop, even though the covenants require only one day a month.

"Two weeks in a row, both of us," Weiss said.

One regular customer got a tip on Izod shirts’ becoming a rare commodity. She was sure the shirts were going to make her rich.

"She bought them for $3 each, and she was going to put them on eBay for $10," Milot said with a smile.

It was all part of a day's work in the Pink Elephant.

In 1954, the Women's Club formed as the Crestwood Women's Club, operating out of a woman's house on Dinwiddie Street in central Springfield. Since then, the monthly meetings have taken place in several churches and schools around the area. The club's numbers averaged around 50 women, but membership has been as high as 100, Crupper said.

Partnerships were established with the Women's Club and Crestwood Elementary, right around the corner in Springfield, as well as Cameron Elementary in Alexandria. Each year, the club awards two $3,000 scholarships, one to a student at Lee High School and one to a student at West Springfield. Members go and read with the elementary students on a weekly basis.

At Crestwood Elementary, Judy Robinson is a counselor who oversees the club's participation. The interaction is an advantage to the women as well as the children.

"It's the time and attention. Some of them are assigned to a class, a half hour or hour a week," Robinson said. "It's almost like a foster grandparent. They're both giving to each other."

The club also sends children to Camp East in southwest Virginia.

"It's our state project," Crupper said.

A state project is a required activity of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, the umbrella organization of women's clubs on a national level. Each month, the Women's Club submits a report to GFWCVA, the state-level umbrella organization.

"We do try to concentrate our efforts on Springfield," said Edson said. "Last year, we gave about $7,000 to schools."

The GFWC credited Jane Cunningham Croly with founding the Women's Club of Springfield. The national organization started as the Sorosis Club of New York City in 1868, evolved into the GFWC in 1889, and has spread to all 50 states and 20 different countries, according to their information. Goals of the club include the support of the arts, preserving natural resources, promoting education, encouraging healthy lifestyles, civic involvement and working toward peace and understanding.

Fischer's Hardware, another old-timer on the central Springfield scene, has been good to the club as well as inadvertently providing a landmark when the women are giving directions to the Pink Elephant. The hardware store is a couple of doors down.

"We could not live without Fischer's Hardware," Crupper said.

Currently, the club has teamed up with a junior women's club in Loudoun County, which was getting ready for its high-school prom. The Springfield women are bolstering their supply of formal wear and makeup.

"Right now, we're in the process of supporting Loudoun County Junior Women's Club," Edson said.

Life around the Pink Elephant hasn't progressed much since 1964, when it first opened. They like it that way too. 'If it's not broken, don't fix it' is the rallying cry. The store boasts no computers or bar codes, and all inventory is counted by hand.

"It's very primitive, but it works," Crupper said.