Annual Women’s Guild luncheon more than a taste of Southern hospitality

April 21, 2019 | 3:05 am

Updated April 20, 2019 | 2:59 pm

Guild members Jessica McKinley, Ann Watson, Sarah Ford in their Battenburg lace aprons on the porch of Watson's house where the luncheon will be held May 8 and 9. | Photo by Marlys Mason

The Women’s Guild will celebrate its 80th luncheon this year, serving as the group’s largest fundraiser. This year’s annual Spring Luncheon will be held at the home of Ann Watson on May 8 and 9.

The guild luncheon is steeped in tradition, much like the sweet tea that is served along with the chicken salad, cheese wafers, homemade roll, fruit and dessert — the same menu since 1938.

Originally called the Hospital Guild and formed by women in the community who recognized a need for a philanthropic group that could provide needed items for the hospital to function, the organization became the Women’s Guild when the hospital formed its own philanthropic association.

“Our mission is to raise funds for non-profits in our community in the realm of health and wellness,” said Jessica McKinley, luncheon chair. “We have an allocation committee that receives and reviews grants and the main focus is on women and children in healthcare.”

The 80 guild members decorate the tables and make the food that is served to guests. Wearing a traditional white Battenburg lace apron, members also serve southern hospitality to guests.

“We aren’t just a group of women serving tea and chicken salad in Battenburg lace aprons. We are much more than that,” McKinley said. “We’re teachers, lawyers, nurses and business owners helping in this unique way to better our community.”

The luncheon is held outside and rain or shine, the luncheon goes on.

“The year that Betty Jagoe hosted the luncheon, it rained buckets,” Melissa Jagoe said. “Obviously the luncheon had to be moved in the house and guests were seated in every room of the house. We beg Mother Nature to be kind to use the two days of the luncheon.”

McKinley said that last year, more than 500 people attended over the two days, and this year, they are hoping for 300 each day. Invitations are sent but are not required to attend the luncheon. People can also donate to the guild, whether they attend the luncheon or not.

“The tradition of giving back and making the community a better place to live is truly in the DNA of the members of the guild,” Jagoe said. “Many members are daughters, daughters-in-law, sisters or cousins of previous and current members. The legacy is strong and the passion is evident.”

The success of recent luncheons provided an opportunity for the guild to increase its membership. Potential new members must be nominated and voted into the guild and one of the main requirements is the new member have a strong desire to work and raise funds to contribute to the community, McKinley said.

“One hundred percent of our profits go directly to Owensboro and its surrounding communities,” McKinley said.

With the increase in membership, the guild has a younger demographic and this allows the group to evolve — especially in social media. Over the past couple of months, historical pictures of past luncheons have been shared with many commenting about seeing grandmothers and aunts in the pictures.

Jenny Martin Grubb grew up in Owensboro but now lives in Tennessee. Last week she was happily surprised when scrolling through social media and saw a Women’s Guild post.

“Every holiday, as I pull out my grandmother’s beautiful silver I inherited, I am reminded of the Women’s Guild event and how my grandmother [Jenny Thompson] adored it,” Grubb said. “Her pieces still have her name card taped to the bottom. What a wonderful day it was to scroll Instagram and see my sweet, ever-so-classy grandmother in one of the pictures.”

The increase in social media and coverage by local news outlets has also meant an increase in attendance over the last four years.

The women in the guild start preparing for the next year as soon as the last plate of chicken salad is served.

“It takes a great deal of coordination to find a house to showcase and to coordinate all of the food and service committees.  But, it truly is such a rewarding time,” Jagoe said. “I have met and worked with so many amazing women that my path would never have crossed if I hadn’t joined the guild.”

Jagoe said the luncheon is important because of the money raised, but it also provides a sense of community. Many community members attend to eat the specific lunch and tour the home, and garden clubs from Evansville and Henderson return yearly for the luncheon. Men often attend and lately, they have been coming in groups with their officemates, Jagoe said.

“My husband jokingly says ‘The luncheon is the Masters of Owensboro — a tradition unlike any other,’” McKinley said. “Coiffed yards, manicured azaleas and a menu that would rival Augusta National any day.”

The past definitely influences the Guild’s future, McKinley said, and although each home that hosts the luncheon has its own feel and character, the traditions hold steady.

“To witness the feeling of the entire community coming together on two beautiful spring days for friendship and a charitable cause is really amazing,” Jagoe said.

This year, Plein Air will be at the luncheon with paintings for sale and also painting on site. Watson’s sister, artist Ginny Futvoye, will also have paintings for sale. She recently had a painting on HGTV.

“There may be slight tweaks from year to year — this year, for example, the addition of the Owensboro Symphony’s Jazz Trio — but the heart of the event will always remain constant,” McKinley said.

Non-profit organizations interested in applying for a grant can email [email protected].

The luncheon is open to the public and is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the home of Ann Watson located at 1827 Fieldcrest Drive. Cost is $25 per person.

April 21, 2019 | 3:05 am

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