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Nearly 50 years later, Gainesville Phoenix Woman’s Club is still transforming lives

POSTED: August 9, 2011 1:30 a.m.
/Photos For The Times

This May 1971 newspaper clipping shows Sandra Deal, second from left, along with new members of the Phoenix Society of Gainesville.

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In 1971, before she was Georgia’s first lady that champions statewide causes, Sandra Deal’s focus was centered on Hall County.

It was during that year that she became the president of the Phoenix Society, now known as the Gainesville Phoenix Woman’s Club.

During her tenure, she presided over the group’s regular meetings. On Saturday, she will again be front and center before the society’s membership. This time, however, as the featured speaker at the group’s annual luncheon at 11:30 a.m. at the Frances Meadows Aquatic Center in Gainesville.

"(Deal) was the second president of the Phoenix Society, the first being former school principal Shirley Whitaker," said Connie Howard-Propes, a charter member of the original group.

"Both did fantastic jobs at the helm of the fledgling group so many years ago."

According Howard-Propes, the group was started in the late 1960s as a rebirth of the local chapter of the General Federation of Women’s Club.

"The former women’s club wasn’t doing anything at that time, but they had some great programs and a very good focus, so about 12 of us decided there needed to be another group in town that does volunteer work," said Howard-Propes, a Hall County resident.

"We named our group the Phoenix Society, like the little bird that rises from the ashes. In the last few years, some of the members decided to change the name just a little bit to correspond with the other state organizations (of the Georgia Federation of Women’s Clubs).

"When we first started, there was only one other woman’s group in town. Forming our group was a way to give another perspective to volunteerism. Some of the things we were doing weren’t being done by other organizations."

In the early days, some of the group’s special projects included volunteering at the Hall County Hospital and organizing summer programing for the Girls Club, which was a predecessor to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County, Howard-Propes said.

One relatively new area of support is the For Her Glory Foundation, a local nonprofit that helps provide wigs and prosthetics to women with cancer who couldn’t otherwise afford them. For the third year in a row, proceeds from Saturday’s Phoenix luncheon will benefit For Her Glory.

The foundation was the brainchild of Judy Piotrowski, her husband Scott Piotrowski and their friends, Jackie and Counte Cooley.

"Judy Piotrowski was a past president of the Phoenix (club). She started the foundation in 2004, shortly before she died from breast cancer," said Brenda Martin, Phoenix club member.

"When I became the president of the (Georgia Federation of Women’s Clubs) in 2008, I asked (the foundation) if we could make For Her Glory a statewide project and they agreed.

"It was a project dear to my heart because (Piotrowski) got cancer about six months after I was diagnosed. We sort of went through treatments at the same time."

Throughout her tenure from 2008 to 2010, women’s clubs statewide conducted projects to support For Her Glory, which is based in Gainesville.

"Some clubs in the Warner Robins area have set up a satellite store, so they are still helping women," said Martin, who has been a member of the Phoenix club since 1981.

"We continue to raise money for the foundation because it is a wonderful organization that does so much to help women. We like to do things that support our community."

The Phoenix ladies have come up with a unique way to cut costs for their fundraiser luncheon that benefits For Her Glory. Instead of paying extra for decorations, they let their club members take care of those details.

"Each year, women in our club host a table of 8 ladies and may choose a theme for their table," said Renette Todd, Phoenix president.

"Each hostess may decorate her table according to the theme she chooses. We have had several beach-themed tables, a Christmas-themed table and even a 1950s ladies-who-lunch-themed table where every guest wore a hat, gloves and pearls.

"It’s always a treat to see the creativity of each hostess."



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