By Sarah Blizzard Robinson
When I first heard about the local Newcomers Club, my neighbor was out walking her dog and noticed my “West Virginia” license plate. I had just stepped outside and saw her wave. She said, “Hi, I’m Nancy. I’m from Huntington, West Virginia.” (Such a small world we live in!) Then she asked if I’d like to join the Newcomers of Eastern Shore. “It’s $25.00 for the year, and I’m the treasurer, so if I’m not home, just set your check under my welcome mat.” This was within weeks of our arrival in Fairhope.
I wrote the check and left it for Nancy to find, but I also browsed the website Newcomers Club and thought it would be fun to attend the upcoming December luncheon. I had to let somebody know I was coming, so I registered on the website. A few days later, I received a welcome card from president Rose Ann Martin, who also greeted me when I walked into the Fairhope Yacht Club for the luncheon.
Nancy was also waving to me from her spot at the registration table. The event was very well-attended. I don’t recall an empty seat. Club president Martin introduced me around, and I found a seat at the table with one of the leaders of the club, Karen Wessling. Wessling moved here from Colorado in 2016 and serves as the parliamentarian. A great conversationalist, Karen put me at ease.
The luncheons generally include a guest speaker, but my first one featured a talented acapella quartet from Mobile, who entertained us with a variety of musical renditions. When I admired our centerpiece of fresh flowers and greenery, I learned the centerpieces would later become door prizes, and they’d been arranged by one of the members of one of the club’s most active sub-groups, the “Down and Dirty Garden Club.”
February’s luncheon program featured speaker Jamie Rollins with the City of Fairhope. He serves as the Horticultural Manager. Rollins gave an informative talk on every aspect of maintaining the beautiful flowers, lighted trees, and even the white wooden trash bins throughout the city.
In case you have ever wondered, the uniquely shaped pier fountain is believed to have been fashioned after the fountain in Carmel, California. I learned Fairhope had been a “Tree USA City” since 1984 and that the flower beds are filled with flora maintained right here in local greenhouses.
Hurricane Sally left some damage to them, and they are being rebuilt. Rollins praised the work done by the city workers who keep the roses and seasonal flowering baskets, tulips, and plantings watered. His crew is out working the grounds and watering flower baskets for hours before he arrives at work at 6:00 a.m. while some of us are still sleeping.
Members can attend functions like luncheons and coffees and excursions to places like the Humming Star Alpaca Farm. Others are interested in gardening, dining out, cocktail parties, and games like card playing. A small group was recently treated to lunch and an informative talk on all things chocolate, including a tasting at the Fairhope Chocolate. Remind me to sign up for that next time!
Five cities fall under the Newcomers of the Eastern Shore umbrella: Daphne, Fairhope, Montrose, Point Clear, and Spanish Fort. The club was founded 46 years ago, in 1977. With 220 members on the roster today, and the sheer number of people moving here, the executive board has a challenging task: keeping the website up-to-date, allowing for good communication between established members and those wanting to know more. The website has become vital in helping participants choose between the varied club activities. Though the subgroups are kept small and often fill up, openings do arise.
I joined the monthly “Lifestories” group, where writers such as myself share their stories. This memoir-style writing is chaired by Rosanne Gulisano, who gives us a writing prompt before we meet again.
And when I signed up to play with a Canasta group, I got a call a few weeks later from Lori Sies, who coordinates the card players; she’s recruited many players from outside of Newcomers, and they meet at the Nix Center. “I saw you signed up to play Canasta,” she said. “Are you available in an hour to sub?”
Despite the last-minute call, I found the James P. Nix Senior Center and joined for the same fee, $25.00 per year. I paid the Nix Center, then watched as the card room of five tables filled up in no time. I enjoyed refreshing my memory of the rules for Canasta. The card players were patient with those of us who were new. Though I lost each of the two games we played, I sure enjoyed sharpening my skills, and hope to be included again when they need a fill-in.
Seasoned members give their time to make sure interested people find their way. When you’re new and need the names of good doctors, dentists, bricklayers, roofers, you-name-it, good referrals are indispensable.
“I like to be available when someone really needs help,” says Elaine Grunther, who moved here from Maryland and has found lasting friendships with many of the members. Grunther chairs the Reservations for Luncheons committee and smiles when she says her role on the executive board is “To keep them all calm.”
The club's future seems secure with a vibrant membership and more people joining every week. Club president Martin welcomes the interest, as she’s always open to new members and ideas for new activities. “Newcomers to the area, once they get settled in, they begin looking for things to get involved with.” Having lived in many different places, including Mexico City, Martin has experienced the importance of connection. “Even retirees, their lives have changed, and they join us, too.” The club is open to people even if they’re not new to the area.
There is a comradery among those who’ve been with the club for many years. They were all once newcomers themselves, and they know how that feels. I repeatedly hear words from many long-time members: "We have found friends for life here.”