Jane Dutcher & Rhonda Harris
LEHIGH — From cleaning up parks, to planting flowers at retirement homes, to awarding scholarships to area students, the Lehigh Women’s Club keeps active in doing their own little part to better the community.
Club President Jane Dutcher has been at the helm leading the group for about 14 years now.
“This woman keeps the club going,” Vice President Rhonda Harris said.
Dutcher joined the club shortly after she moved to town, and has been putting in the hard work ever since. She plans to resign the position in September.
“Once you get in there, they don’t want to let you out,” Dutcher said.
Just a few weeks ago, Dutcher and Harris were putting the finishing touches on their Lehigh River Days float, complete with a sign celebrating over 95 years of the club’s history.
“We became federated in 1922,” Dutcher said.
The club gives out a $200 scholarship every year. And for the past few years, it’s also supported area students by helping get thousand dollar scholarships from the Iowa Federated Women’s Club, Harris said.
The Women’s Club does work at Lehigh’s ballpark. Last year, a couple old oaks had to be cut down, and the Women’s Club planted a new red maple at the park, Harris said.
“I didn’t realize–I had to come here twice a day and give it a whole bucket of water,” she said.
The club also takes part in a clean up day every April with other groups in town.
“We go to the ballpark and rake up all the leaves,” Harris said.
“We go along some of the streets and pick up garbage,” Dutcher added.
“Usually we have some from the Lion’s Club, and one year we had a 4-H group come and help for their citizen award,” Harris said. “When residents know about it they come up and help.”
Both women were considered “outsiders” in Lehigh.
“When you move into town, you’re considered an outsider. When your kids are born, now they’re Lehigh kids,” said Harris.
“When I first moved to Lehigh I was known as Jerry’s wife. Then when we had kids I became Rich’s mom. And then Krista’s mom,” Dutcher said. “And then I went back to being Jerry’s wife.”
Both have worked for the bank in Lehigh, and also at the restaurant on Main Street back when it was open.
Harris and her husband Phil Harris lived in Fort Dodge, then moved closer to Lehigh when Phil’s parents gave them part of an acreage. Eventually they moved into town.
Dutcher grew up in Marble Rock, near Mason City. She moved to the area to get a job working for a doctor in Fort Dodge, then met her husband Jerry at a dance.
“He’d lived here all his life. He wasn’t moving,” she said.
It’s a good place to live.
“Oh yes. People are good,” Dutcher said.
“It’s good to raise your kids in a small town, I think,” Harris said.
Like many small towns, Lehigh has more empty buildings downtown these days.
Some of those buildings created a safety hazard a few years ago, forcing the city to fence off what used to be a park across the street from the now-closed restaurant. The Women’s Club used to own that park, and maintain it.
Although the city owns it now, the women would love to plant flowers there again if it became usable.
“A lot of people used to go in the restaurant, get ice cream and then go sit in the park,” Harris said.
“And bikers used to use it. You always saw bikers sitting at those tables,” said Dutcher.
The women’s club brings flowers to the planter boxes at retirement homes, too. They enlist kids to help them plant and weed the little gardens, Harris said.
And from September to May, the club also holds regular meetings, presenting programs for the women to learn from.
“We have the speech class from the school come just about every year,” Dutcher said.
“We’ve had Steve Roe from the men’s shelter in Fort Dodge come and talk. One year we had someone from the sheriff’s department come and talk about helping kids in trouble,” Harris added.
Dutcher’s daughter also has presented to the group about working in the emergency room, and as a flight nurse on helicopters.
The club also donates to the fire department, gives money for the annual Easter Egg hunt, and takes cookies once a year to Dayton and Stratford nursing homes.
“In January we collect school supplies for the younger kids,” Dutcher said. “By the time the second semester comes around they’ve lost or used all their pencils.”
“You know the teachers donate a lot of things themselves,” Harris said. “We try to help them out a little bit. We usually get a lot, we had several tables full.”
“We had 900 items,” Dutcher added. “And they use them. They don’t have left over from one year to the next.”
As far as Dutcher’s concerned, she is ready for someone else to lead the club next year.
“I think it’s time for some new blood,” she said.
The club has 19 members right now.
“We have to have a membership drive of some sort. We had one a few years ago, and we did real well,” Dutcher said.
“We had about 25 after that. We had some of the younger girls, but then they drop out,” Harris said. “They’re always so busy.”