By Julia Davis - July 21, 2016
The Women’s Association has been a staple of the CSA for over a century and has been running the art fair since its inception 38 summers ago. But times have changed with many women (all CSA female members are automatically members of the Women’s Association) no longer able to be at the Assembly for the entire summer nor able to commit to taking a board position within the group. Recent bylaw changes have transformed the organization into one that solely funds events rather than hosts them. I talked to Susan Baker and Sandra O’Neal, the current co-chairs of the Women’s Association, about the challenges the Women’s Association faces, how they fill leadership positions and their favorite anecdote from their time serving the Women’s Association board.
What is the history of the women’s association and why was it founded?
Sandra O’Neal (SO): I do not know why it was founded, but at that time it was very common for women in church groups to gather together for the purpose of both social activities and volunteering.
All women who are members of the CSA are automatically members yet it seems like many women do not know this and are surprised when they are told this is the case.
Susan Baker (SB): It doesn’t matter how many times you say something; it doesn’t necessarily sink in until you’re ready to hear it. It started as a social group, a service group, a way for women to get to know each other. As women’s lives have changed and families’ lives have changed, that has also changed. A few years ago, there was a bylaw change for the Women’s Association. Now there are a few things that the Women’s Association specifically does and the art fair is the biggest one and essentially our reason for being. The wonderful traditional things the Women’s Association has done for decades, like Lemonade Sundays, art workshops, and programs for children are now done on an ad hoc basis. If you’re interested in having something done, you approach the Women’s Association by filling out an application on the website, asking for funding, coming up with your idea of how this could happen.
So it’s primarily an organization for ad hoc funding.
SB: Yes and that also opens the door for new and wonderful ideas to come forth such as the Ecology Fun program.
I know you give a lot to Ecology Fun, but where else does the raised money go?
SO: We fund four specific categories: donations to charities in the community, scholarships, one- time projects like the butterfly garden, the defibrillators and pickle ball equipment, and on an annual basis programs including potluck dinners. See the full list here.
How important is the art fair and Cottage tresaures to the Women’s Association?
SB: It’s one of the biggest community events the CSA does. I love the fact that so many of us have things in our cottages that came from probably 10 other families in the CSA because of Cottage Treasures. And the fact that if you have somebody come over for dinner, there’s a fair chance that when you put that serving bowl on the table, somebody’s going to say, “You know, that’s my aunt Molly’s!”
How do you foresee the Association’s future?
SO: We are at a point where we need to ask questions about the ongoing viability of the Women’s Association. Not the ongoing viability of the Arts and Crafts fair, which can keep going on run by a committee of the Trustees. But the Women’s Association for the last decade has had more and more difficulty getting women to commit to serving on the board and considerable difficulty getting leadership positions filled. This is Susan and my last year as chairs of the association and we have spoken to at least 60 women about taking on these roles and have been unsuccessful in finding anyone to do so. That alone is not a reason for the association to dissolve but over time there’s simply been less and less interest. Our leadership team asked Beth Wolszon and Jennifer Daly, the past president and vice president of the Board of Trustees, to consult with us this year on the future of the Women’s Association.
Any fun Art fair anecdotes while you were co-chairs?
SO: I had to adjudicate a conflict at Cottage Treasures in which two men had bought the same canoe at separate cashier stations. They both went to pick up the canoe, and one picked up the stern and one picked up the bow and they both looked at each other and I was asked to sort this out. I said to the two men, “would a coin toss satisfy you?” And one of them produced a coin and flipped it and walked away with the canoe and we gave the other one their money back, but it was a great illustration of the fact that we have terrific values at the fair.