The Clark County Newcomers Club turns 65 this year. The joke is that the club is old enough to retire.
That’s unlikely given that the club has 400 members. The club, however, does attract mostly retirees. They find the club’s wide array of gatherings provides social connection and structure when work no longer does.
“I’ve made lifelong friends,” said Barbara Klausman, who moved to Vancouver in 1996 but didn’t join the club until 2007 when she retired. “I have to make choices about what I do every day.”
The Newcomers Club, despite the name, is open to anyone. You don’t have to be a newcomer to join. And you can stay in the club as long as you like. Some of the members have participated for decades. The club has a monthly general meeting over coffee and snacks, with many other smaller gatherings for playing games, quilting, golfing, hiking, dining, volunteering and going on excursions.
The membership is $30 a year per household. Even though men are welcome, most participants (99 percent, by one member’s estimate) are women. Perhaps 95 percent are retired.
That was reflected during a recent Tuesday monthly meeting attended by 72 members, which is why Kayla Gunderson, 31, stood out. She moved to Vancouver in 2016. A financial adviser, Gunderson asked a client how to get involved in the community. The answer: Join the Newcomers Club.
“She did not mention ages,” Gunderson said with a laugh. “I walked into an event and realized very quickly I was the youngest one by 20 or 30 years. I said, ‘If you don’t want me here, I can leave.’ ”
Instead, the group welcomed her. In addition to serving as the group’s secretary, she attends luncheons and participates in group hikes.
“It forces me to get out of the office,” Gunderson said. “It’s a place to meet and talk and learn from other people. You get a very quick sense of community coming here.”
Marian Plumb founded the group in 1954. She culled the names of newcomers from the rolls of those newly signed up for utility service. Plumb visited them with an offering of local business coupons and an invitation to join the club for coffee. At first, the group was called the City Welcoming Service, but the name changed to the Clark County Newcomers Club in the early 1980s.
The club raises money for various charities. The membership holds an annual vote to decide which one to support. In years past, the club has supported the Free Clinic of Southwest Washington, Open House Ministries, the Children’s Center and other nonprofit organizations.
The group also donates money to the Milk Jug Program that monthly goes to buy milk for the children who are staying at the YWCA Safe House.
Fundamentally, though, the club is about making friends.
“I can honestly say I didn’t know a soul when I moved here,” Sandra Tremmel said. She serves as the group’s publicist and has been a member for 20 years.”The first coffee I went to I couldn’t believe how nice the women were.”
Dodie Lopez found the club through social media, but she enjoys the club’s frequent in-real-life gatherings. She joined in 2011 after moving from Southern California.
“Social media is fine, but it’s not human contact,” Lopez said.
Becky O’Donnell, president of the club, said many members found the club after making big life transitions — retiring or moving, or both at once.
“When you have children in school, that’s your social circle. When you’re working, that’s your social circle,” O’Donnell said. The club provides a new circle.
Josie Karling is among a handful who have been members the longest. She joined in 1983 after moving from Alaska.
“I used to be a sales rep for Revlon. All of a sudden, I retired,” Karling said. “This was a very welcoming situation for me.”
Phyllis Pankow said when she first joined, she did so to play bridge. Her husband’s job took him on business trips all around the world, and he would be gone for weeks at a time.
“This gave me friends. Everyone is really welcoming,” Pankow said. “You can do as much or as little as you want.”