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A trip down Myrtle Street: Former Girls Club members to reunite for the first time in decades
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Girls play games in the old gym run by the former Gainesville-Hall County Girls Club. Photo courtesy the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier.

Marsha Hopkins of Gainesville remembers spending summers taking dozens of girls to the Pine Street swimming pool. 

She remembers passing out Rice Krispies Treats, playing basketball and teaching girls how to become independent young women. 

Gainesville-Hall County Girls Club Reunion

What: Free public event for friends of the former Girls Club

When: 2-4 p.m. Sunday, March 22

Where: Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier’s Teen Center, 1 Positive Place, Gainesville

More info: hopkins.marsha@gmail.com, guests are encouraged to bring old photos taken at the Girls Club

Volunteering and working at the Gainesville-Hall County Girls Club was her world from age 14 to 24, Hopkins said. Although the group merged with the local Boys Club in the late '80s to become what is now the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier, she still reminisces on the days when all of her favorite ladies were in one room. 

From 2-4 p.m. Sunday, March 22, those who breathed life into the Girls Club will come together for their first reunion. The gathering is open and free to the public and will be held at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier’s Teen Center, near Fair Street School.

“It’s just been a love of my life, and I want to see these people again,” Hopkins said.

Past members, volunteers, staff and friends of the Girls Club are welcome to attend. Hopkins said former Georgia first lady Sandra Deal, who was a dedicated volunteer for years, plans to attend the event.

Other invitations were sent out to people throughout Hall County, including one of the club’s devotees, Lessie Smithgall, co-founder of The Times with her husband, Charles. 

“Lessie Smithgall was someone who was very interested and supportive of the Girls Club, financially and emotionally,” Sally Darden, former board member of the organization, said. “She had a vision to do more for girls in the community. She was certainly one of the angels that helped make all of that happen.”

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Girls have a snack in this undated photo from the former Gainesville-Hall County Girls Club. The club, which merged with the Boys Club to form The Boys and Girls Clubs of Lanier in the 1980s, is having a reunion this month. Members and leaders of the club have included some well-known local women such as Lessie Smithgall and Sandra Deal. Photo courtesy The Boys and Girls Clubs of Lanier.

Hopkins said the soon-to-be 109-year-old spent many years writing original plays for the girls to perform each year at the Gainesville First Baptist Church. One year, Hopkins said Smithgall put together a play about Noah’s Ark.

“Lessie was always creative, and she believed in exposing them to the arts,” Hopkins said. “It was a big deal for those girls. Volunteers helped make the costumes, and musicians would come in.”

Hopkins said the Girls Club originally met in an old white-framed house at 942 Myrtle St. in Gainesville. Around 1969-70, she said the building was “rolled away” and replaced with a blue and white building that stands in the same spot today. 

Hopkins said the building was equipped with a gym for basketball and volleyball, sewing room, beauty parlor and a space for crafts.

The club later outgrew it and relocated to the New Holland Recreation Center in 1986.

Hopkins said the club revived the old building, which was going to be demolished.

Darden — who was the co-chair of the campaign to raise $500,000 to restore the center — said the building ended up being donated by Roger Milliken of Milliken and Co.

The now 100-year-old center served as the Girls Club’s headquarters until the merger, which moved the group to the Positive Place Club. 

Hopkins said there were days when 200 girls would be packed into the center, and days where the girls would visit a zoo, watch an orchestra perform or enjoy drinking Coca-Cola at Smithgall’s home.

“I enjoyed the fact that it was an organization that advocated for young girls,” Darden said. “It gave enrichment opportunities they may not have otherwise to help them grow into strong young women.”

Clarissa Foster, who now works for United Way of Hall County, used to be one of the girls who spent their days at the Girls Club.

She recalls spending summers at the Pine Street pool and taking cooking and art lessons from the organization’s leaders. 

“I started there when I was around 10 years old,” Foster said. “We did a little bit of everything there. I enjoyed it.”

The event on Sunday, March 22, will offer a casual meet and greet setting with refreshments. Keeping to the Girls Club tradition, Hopkins plans to serve Rice Krispies Treats.

She encourages guests to bring old photos from their time at the Girls Club.

“A lot of folks who were involved are gone,” Hopkins said. “But it’s time we got together and remembered good times. I’m excited to see some old friends.”

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Kids dance in this undated photo from the former Gainesville-Hall County Girls Club. The club, which merged with the Boys Club to form The Boys and Girls Clubs of Lanier in the 1980s, is having a reunion this month. Photo courtesy The Boys and Girls Clubs of Lanier.
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