MFGC Life Membership

What is a Life Member of the Montana Federation of Garden Clubs?

A Life Member is a club member interested in helping a worthy Montana student further their college education. All the membership fees are placed in trust to endow an annual $1000 scholarship to a student majoring in conservation, horticulture, parks or forestry, floriculture, greenhouse management, land management or related subjects.  A list of recent Life Member Scholarship winners is on this website under “Scholarships.”

A member of a federated garden club may join Life Members by sending a one-time, tax-deductible $25 donation to Vicky Barbieri, Treasurer, 504 Howie Road, Big Timber, MT 59011. For those who wish to make additional donations to be used to fund the scholarship, each club is collecting voluntary donations of any amount in a “Dollars for Scholars” fund. These monies are sent to the state treasurer when the balance is $50. “Montana Life Rose” is a fund for anyone to contribute $50 or more for the scholarship. A tax receipt will acknowledge your contribution, and a rose pin will be presented at the Life Members annual meeting held during the MFGC convention. Donors may contribute each year.

We wish to gratefully acknowledge the following people who are the 2016-2017 Montana Life Rose donors:

Susan Billmayer and Jane Ereaux — major donors

Carol Works                         Luana Maxwell

Christi Mock                        Vanette Nagamori

Sherry Corneliusen            Jo Lee Burman

Gail Williamson

A history of the Montana Federation of Garden Clubs, Inc. Life Members organization, written by Joyce Backa, appears below.

Celebrating 60+ Years of MFGC Life Members’ History

What was going on in the world 60 years ago, in 1951? The UN building in New York City was opened; I remember making a UN banner in 1945. What took so long? “Dennis the Menace” began in the comics. “All About Eve” was the best picture and President Harry Truman fired Douglas MacArthur from his position as Far Eastern Commander. The soap opera “Search for Tomorrow” began in ’51 and ended in 1986, and the movie “Show Boat” was released. The CBS “eye” started. Winston Churchill was re-elected following six years of Attlee being Prime Minister, and Robin Williams was born.

What was happening in Montana? Preparation had begun on placing missiles at Malmstrom, Great Falls replaced Butte as the largest city, and, of course, now it’s Billings. Petroleum production boomed in eastern Montana and Eddie’s Corner started. The Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Center in Hamilton began and the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena was established. There was a record storm in April of ’51, lots of snow, winds, etc. “Red Skies of Montana” a movie about the smoke jumpers (parachuting firefighters) was made and premiered in January of ’52 , and I graduated from high school and hope to be able to attend the 60th reunion of the class in July. What was a highlight of your life in 1951? Any stories to tell?

In Billings, the Garden Club Convention was held and Mrs. R. J. (Evelyn) Mooney of Butte, urged the Federation to begin a Life Members group and to follow National Guidelines. She had been a National Garden Club President at the age of 52. (She was an in-law of my daughter-in-law and her three children, all of Butte.) Several garden clubbers paid their $25 and Life Members was begun.

A breakfast with 10 members present was held in 1952 and in 1953 the idea of raising funds for a scholarship porgram began. (A side note: Norm tells me that in 2009, that money was worth $198.99. Why weren’t our dues $200!?) Several breakfasts were held at convention, they had secret pals and discussed putting the money into bonds. Husband’s names were used so we know very few women’s names (Mrs. Ralph Backa, not Joyce). This was still being done by some as there are records of a letter using a husband’s name between a state officer and the chairman who were good friends in 1993! The correspondence concerned whether Life Members could have bylaws. The National Parliamentarian said we legally could not have our own since we are a part of a parent organization and we would have to have a separate IRS 501 c (3) number, so we have guidelines.

There are no minutes between 1959 and 1979, but from 1980 we know we know that at convention, members wore pins that said “I’m a Lifer,” which was done again in 2008. Breakfast has now become a banquet. Banquet themes were instituted, such asHawaiian complete with grass skirts and the Hula. Other years, Mexico and pirates dominated and a popular evening was all about “our past” and hard times. Costumes were judged, usually by husbands who attended in abundance; today they are scarce. Sometimes there were two programs in an evening and the skits and/or talent was judged. Some of these included singing acts, magic tricks, dance groups, etc. Decorations fit the themes and lots of pottery items were made by Lila Pasha, a non-garden club and non-Life Member, sister of Shirley Cornelius, member of the Dearborn Garden Club but not a Life Member. They are both daughters of Lillian Swan, who was Life Members Chairman. The size of the affairs grew a bit from 10 to over a 100 with the average now being 70. The number of members has also grown a great deal. From those first 10, we have 803 members listed and 398 living members. My first member was number 700, so we gained 103 new names in 6 years! We will accept more!

Today, programs are still popular, singing and dancing groups, stories by members, tales of visitation to exotic and/or historical places, embarrassing moments, the language of flowers, etc., only one at a time. In the past and the present, if possible, the scholarship winner is present to speak to us.

Committees worked on scholarships most of the year and a group of 5 to 10 planned and prepared for the banquet. Past State Chairmen include Mrs. Ethel Cornelius, who held the position for seven conventions, Mrs. Henry Blemmer, two years, Mrs. Lillian Swan, two terms, May Carol Zeman Steigmeier, one term, Mrs. Leona Bergmann, for seven years, then Mae Brennan for nine years, Martha Westgard, one year, Elizabeth Kehmeier presided for nine years, myself, and Susan Woods.  Many thanks to all of these chairmen who have kept up the organization the way it was expected.  Elections were held to coincide with state officers. The 1956 minutes stated no re-elections but, though we still coincide, we have lots of recycling. With missing minutes and repeat chairmen since ’64, the guidelines could have been changed at some point.

Conventions have been held in different places, from Dillon to Glendive and many places in between. Larger cities seem to hold them about every four years with smaller towns (Havre, Malta, Chinook, Dillon) acting as hosts the alternate years. A lot of good times, but the main purpose is still to raise the money for a $1,000 scholarship for a Montana student in a Montana school with a major in a horticulture field. The first scholarship was given in 1968 for $200. It was soon raised to $250, then $300, $400, $500, $600, $700 and in 1985, the amount was lifted to $1,000 and remains there today. Primarily, interest from the $25 covers the scholarship, but there are times, like now, when the interest is not enough. Then there are fund raisers, silent auctions, raffles, etc., and donations. These fund raisers also help reimburse chairmen and their hostesses for decorations.

Become A Life Member

Send $25 to Vicky Barbieri, Treasurer, 504 Howie Rd., Big Timber, MT  59011-7835