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Minden Fortnightly started out as a sewing club

by Nancy Hamlett

The are very few organizations that have the history and personality of the Minden Fortnightly Club.

Organized on September 1, 1910 as a sewing club for the ladies of Minden “proper” the club has evolved into a limited membership service organization.

Marlena Hellwinkel, the unofficial club historian, lovingly held a little notebook that contained the minutes of that first meeting.

“We are the oldest continuous women’s organization in the State of Nevada,” said Hellwinkel. “Dues in 1910 were ten cents and the first treasurer’s report indicated a balance of sixty-five cents taken from the members to ‘start a fund against which the club may draw for incidentals.'”

According to Hellwinkel the ladies served tea and refreshments and gossiped while they sewed. One of the topics of conversation had to be the Carson Valley Improvement Club (CVIC) which was the social center of the newly formed town of Minden.

By 1921 the CVIC was in a sorry state of disrepair after many years of use as a theater, and the ladies of Fortnightly voted to spruce it up. They approached Farmers Bank for a loan to refurbish the hall, and each member of the club had to sign the $500 promissory note.

Perhaps this is when Fortnightly changed from a sewing club to a service organization. CVIC has remained its primary focus ever since.

“A lot of people don’t realize that we are a service club,” said Fortnightly president Carol Coleman. “Yes, the CVIC is our pet project and always comes first with us, but we have branched into all aspects of the community. We raise money, have a lot of fun doing it and contribute regularly to the community.”

Fortnightly has a limited membership of 35 women. A nomination process is used to fill vacancies.

“We have found that limiting the membership has created a strong workforce where everyone contributes,” said Coleman. “Members become honorary members after 20 years. We currently have 15 honorary members.”

Hellwinkel, who has been a member since 1954, remembers the importance of Fortnightly in the community.

“One year Fortnightly held a carnival and my parents traveled through blizzard and snowstorm to go,” said Hellwinkel. “My mother came back wearing bangles on her arms.

“And I also remember, as a child, taking Red Cross swim lessons through Fortnightly. Club members borrowed buses from the school district and drove us either to Walley’s Hot Springs or the hot springs in Carson City for the lessons.”

Fortnightly meets every other week, as its name indicates, from October through May. They take off the summer months in order to rejuvenate their batteries.

“Or maybe it’s time off for good behavior,” joked club member Carol Bennis. “Seriously, we work very hard during those 8 months. This way we come back with new ideas and great attitudes. Fortnightly never gets stale.”

The first meeting of the year is always a costume party when the secret pal from the previous year is revealed. Other special Fortnightly events in the past included a cocktail dinner dance where members perform a skit or revue that they write themselves, a luncheon in the spring to celebrate the end of the Fortnightly year, and a pot luck dinner with husbands.

“It’s our way of thanking our husbands for putting up with our shenanigans over the year,” said Hellwinkel.

The big Fortnightly fundraiser is always the weekend before Thanksgiving with a Christmas fair, live and silent auctions, raffles, bazaar and cocktail party. Fortnightly members prepare all of the crafts and food.

“Each member is required to attend at least six meetings a year, they must coordinate one meeting, serve on one committee and they absolutely must help with the fundraiser every year,” said Bennis. “We aren’t like other clubs that are always struggling for members to attend. I think that is because we have so much fun.”

The ways and means committee is responsible for determining how Fortnightly funds are returned to the community. After expenditures to the CVIC, the club sponsors the high school representatives to Girl’s State and Boy’s State.

“We have supported the High School rodeo, the paramedics, Parks and Rec and the Girl’s Volleyball team,” said Bennis.

“Don’t forget Pops in the Park, Food Closet and the Carson Valley Historical Society,” said Hellwinkel. “We have donated the original minutes and bylaws to the Carson Valley Historical Society so that they can be preserved. And we have scrapbooks that record a visual history of the club since 1950.”

Cecile Brown, curator of the Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center, said that last year’s funding by Minden Fortnightly was used to purchase archival preservation materials.

“Old papers and photos stored without these supplies, and not taken care of properly, have a bad acid problem that will destroy them over time,” said Brown. “The historical society was able to purchase archival boxes, acidification sprays and other materials to preserve the history of the Carson Valley. We couldn’t have done it without Fortnightly.”

Current club officers are Carol Coleman, president, Chris Etchegoyhen, vice president, Robbin Pedrett, treasurer and Mary Jane Hillenbrand, secretary.

“It’s a fun group,” said Hellwinkel. “We do some mighty fun things together, and we get a lot done.”

“Helping the community should be fun,” said Coleman. “And let me tell you, Minden Fortnightly has a ton of fun.”

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