Newcomers club also a place for old friends

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The Clark County Newcomers Club may be a bit of a misnomer. Its mission is to welcome people to the area, but most members haven’t been new to the club or to Clark County for quite some time.

The group is really about friendship. And friendships formed through the club last long after people have established roots in the community.

“It’s so much fun and you make so many friends that you never want to leave,” said Mae Robertson. “And people keep joining, so the club keeps growing.”

The Clark County organization, founded in 1956, is part of a worldwide network of newcomers clubs. While some clubs limit the length of time people can be members, the Clark County group does not.

“We welcome everybody,” said Rita Ahl of Vancouver, the club’s publicity chairwoman. Ahl first joined the club in 1985. She has moved to and from the area since then, and always comes back to Newcomers.

Many people have belonged to the Clark County Newcomers Club for a decade or more, though new members join every month.

“It’s a great mix,” said club president Phyllis Pankow of Ridgefield.

Pankow joined the group in 1998 when she moved here from Pennsylvania.

“Coming out here, I didn’t know a soul,” she said. “These people were a lifesaver. I just met so many wonderful friends.”

It’s those relationships that keep the club’s more than 300 members coming back year after year.

“I’ve made lifetime friends,” said Marlys Stellingwerf, a Hazel Dell resident who joined the club four years ago when she relocated from Hawaii.

In addition to camaraderie, the club offers a packed schedule of activities for almost every interest.

Robertson, a Hockinson resident, joined in 2005 and is currently its vice president. She wasn’t new to the area when she got involved with the Clark County Newcomers Club, but was looking for a hiking group.

Hiking is just one of a number of activities the club offers. Others include bridge, mahjong, quilting, dining, walking, jewelry making and golf. There’s also a subgroup especially for men that started about a year and a half ago.

When women join the club, their husbands or significant others are automatically included in the group. The majority of active members, though, are women.

Always an event

With all the activities to choose from, there’s almost always something going on.

“Pretty much every day you could keep busy,” said Yvonne Wright, a Camas resident who first joined the club about 15 years ago when she moved up from California. She is now the club’s charity chairwoman.

In addition to the various subgroups’ gatherings, the overarching Clark County Newcomers Club meets on the first Tuesday of every month for coffee, often at members’ houses. Every other month except in the summer they have a luncheon at Club Green Meadows in Vancouver.

For the December coffee, about 70 women flocked to Susie Bauder’s Proebstel home to ogle her holiday decor and share Christmas cookies and conversation. The bustling energy only quieted when Pankow announced a special guest. Joni Vilhauer, director of the nonprofit Northwest Children’s Outreach, had come to thank the club for its backing.

Each year, the Clark County Newcomers Club board votes on a charity to support. For fiscal year 2009-2010, they selected Northwest Children’s Outreach, which provides clothes, toys and other basic items for children in need.

Through book and jewelry sales, a silent auction and other activities, the group raised $3,767 last year for the organization. Members voted to support Northwest Children’s Outreach again for fiscal year 2010-2011.

Fundraisers support the club’s philanthropic efforts. Membership dues — $20 per year per household — cover basic costs such as coffee for meetings and printing of the club’s monthly newsletter and annual directory. Some activities, such as tours and dining out, have associated costs that participants pay, but many are free.

New blood

Chanel Reeve, who moved to Vancouver from Hawaii about a month ago, is proof that true newcomers do join the longtime regulars at Clark County Newcomers Club events.

She found the club’s website through a Google search and came to the December coffee as a guest to learn more about the group.

“I really enjoyed it,” Reeve said. “There were a ton of really fun ladies and diverse personalities. They were very friendly. It felt very welcoming.”

At 24, she’d be on the younger end of the club’s age spectrum (most members are mid- to late-career or retired, typically ranging in age from 50 to 80). That’s not a concern for Reeve, though.

“I like being around a more mature crowd, people with experience I can learn from,” she said. “I thought it was perfect.”

Another new face at the December coffee was Patti Amerine. She has lived in Vancouver for six years but is new to the club. Amerine, who was recently widowed, came as a guest hoping to make connections and add diversity to her social network.

“I’m looking for social activities and to meet new people,” she said. “Right now, most of my friends are quilters, so it’s just that one activity. I’m looking to expand on that.”

Mary Ann Albright: maryann.albright@columbian.com, 360-735-4507.