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Local Red Hatters celebrate 9 years of 'enjoying life'
Lake Lanier Chicks see club expand
Terry Floyd, left, and her daughter Chelsea Floyd are members of the Lake Lanier Red Hat Chicks. Since Chelsea Floyd hasn’t met the minimum age requirement to be a red hatter, she’s considered a Lady in Waiting and wears pink, instead of the traditional red and purple.

In 1998, Sue Ellen Cooper presented her friend with a red fedora and poem for her 55th birthday.

The poem was Jenny Joseph’s "Warning," which says "When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple, with a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me."

The goal of Cooper’s gift was to inspire her friend to grow older on her own terms while never losing sight of her youthful playfulness.

That gift was the catalyst for the formation of the Red Hat Society, which has grown to include more than 40,000 worldwide chapters.

"We are mature ladies playing dress up, and we’re loving it," said Jeré McMahan, a charter member of the Lake Lanier Red Hat Chicks in Gainesville.

"We love having fun, and we enjoy each other. It helps keep us young."

The purpose of the society is quite simple — enjoying life.

"We will be celebrating our ninth year in operation this year. We started out with about 10 ladies. Now we have around 20 members. We like to keep the group small, so that we can all sit together when we go out.

"We haven’t done a lot of trips like some of the other groups. Mostly, it’s gathering for a social event like our monthly lunches. It’s a time for us to get together and enjoy each other’s company."

Although the target audience is women who have reached their 50th birthday, the society doesn’t shun younger women. The Lake Lanier group’s members range in ages from the late 20s to mid-90s. The ladies who are younger than 50 are known as "Ladies in Waiting."

"The ‘Ladies in Waiting’ wear pink hats and lavender dresses, instead of the red hats and purple dresses."

On a recent trip to Washington D.C., one of the local Red Hatters discovered just how large an impact the society has at-large.

"One of the places we wanted to visit was the (Smithsonian’s) National Museum of American History," said Julie Panico, a member of the Lake Lanier group.

"I looked over to the side at one of the display cases and I said, ‘Oh my gosh. It’s a red hat.’ My husband thought it was just a red hat, but I said, ‘No, it’s the red hat.’"

Panico was right, it was the original fedora that the society’s founder had given to her friend as a birthday gift.

While she was posing for pictures near the hat and purple boa, two of the society’s founding members walked over to Panico and asked if she was there for the convention. Although that wasn’t the purpose of her visit, Panico learned that the Red Hat convention was being held that weekend to celebrate the unveiling of the society’s inclusion into the museum’s collection of exhibits.

"It was really neat," Panico said.

"I was pretty excited."

In addition to its monthly members-only lunches, the Lake Lanier group hosts other, more inclusive activities. For the last two years, the group has been co-hosting the Red Hat Chit Chat at the Gainesville Civic Center. This year’s theme was "Putting on the Glitz: Monte Carlo Style." The event featured a catered lunch, talent show and a few rounds of "blingo" — the elegant cousin of Bingo. Awards were also given out for best hat, most unusual outfit and best glitz.

"We wanted to do something really special for the ladies in the community," McMahan.

"We wanted to sit down for a meal, have cloth napkins and be treated like ladies."

McMahan says being a member of the Red Hat Society offers a refreshing reprieve from adult codes of conduct and responsibilities.

"Each of us individually have done constructive things for the community. We’ve been volunteers, career women and involved with our churches," McMahan said.

"This was a little bit of a relief for us. It’s something we can do that’s purely for us."