GFWC Celebrates 126 Years of Volunteering

Press Release by Joyce Ward, Parliamentarian for GFWC of Oklahoma

009 Joyce Ward shown right speaks to GFWC Heeko Club member, Ruby Duke

The General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC), an international women’s organization dedicated to community improvement by enhancing the lives of others through volunteer service, celebrated 126 years of volunteering on April 24.

Nearly 100,000 members strong and with clubs in every U.S. state and eleven countries, GFWC is the world’s largest nonpartisan, non-denominational, international women’s organization.

“Together, we can improve our future by Living the Volunteer Spirit today,” said Babs J. Condon, who serves as GFWC’s Fiftieth International President.

GFWC clubs and clubwomen are the fabric that binds not only the Federation, but the communities in which they live and work. By Living the Volunteer Spirit, GFWC clubwomen transform lives each day, not simply with monetary donations, but with hands-on-tangible projects that provide immediate impact. With a grassroots approach that often thinks locally but impacts globally, GFWC, its clubs and members remain committed to serving as a force for global good, as it had done since its formation 126 years ago.

GFWC is committed to remain a leading voice in areas our members are active in every day. As an organization dedicated to community improvement, we must take action on important topics that impact the quality of life for all-especially those related to women and girls, early childhood education, and veterans’ services.

GFWC Heeko club members are proud to be a part of this organization and have continued to be an active part of the community for the past 105 years. In 2015 GFWC Heeko members volunteered 2,077 Hours and over $15,000.00 to the Pawhuska community.

Ruby Duke speaks in Pawhuska to GFWC – Heeko Club of ranch life in western Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression

Ruby Duke, seated, surrounded by her family. (L-R) Kelly Duke’s son/Ruby’s grandson Kasey Duke, Ruby’s son-in-law Jim Kerwin and daughter Gayle Kerwin, Ruby’s son Kelly Duke and daughter-in-law Kathy Duke.

By Roseanne Sutton

Ruby Duke, born Aug. 12, 1916 in Shattuck, Oklahoma , was the guest speaker at the General Federation of Women’s Clubs Heeko Chapter meeting on April 11. Ruby Duke has been a very active volunteer in Pawhuska since she and her late husband purchased a ranch and moved to the area in 1952.
However, her speech to the Heeko ladies focused on her experiences as a newlywed rancher’s wife during the Great Depression and the Oklahoma Dust Bowl.
Seated at the front of the room with over 40 guests and members of Duke’s family, she recounted stories of her life.
“I’ve lived a varied life — mountains and valleys. I’ve been told that if you don’t have the valleys, you don’t appreciate the mountains.”
Ruby said that the lessons she had learned during this period had stayed with her.
Her father had an automotive garage business in Shattuck, Okla. “1929 is when I first noticed the depression. In those days people came to have their car batteries recharged, and Daddy lost the garage. There were a lot of sacrifices made.”
Ruby described her life: “In 1935 everyone was poor. We were poor but we didn’t know it. We were happy.
“Life was much more simple. Even though you were poor, you shared with those who had less than you … The Santa Fe Railroad ran through our town. We fed many homeless men who were riding the rails looking for work. They were daddies riding from town-to-town looking for work,” Ruby said.
“Mom baked homemade bread twice a week. We shared what we had. My mom said, ‘We can’t afford to give both jelly and butter – you get one or the other.’ If we had milk, they got that too.
“They rode under the box cars. It was dangerous,” she added.
“When the class of ’35 graduated, we were too poor to get a class picture. No class rings – our families were too poor to buy them, but no one whined,” Ruby explained.
After graduation, college was not affordable, so Ruby became the society editor for the Ellis County News, working Wednesday through Friday. “I got $1 a day. We would go to press late Friday and if I stayed to hand-fold the newspapers, I got an extra dollar.”
“My best source of information was an old dentist, whose office was on the second floor above the drug store,” she said. “Dr. Fulton was the most gossipy person I knew.”
At this time, the dust had already begun to blow,” Ruby said. On Saturdays, Ruby also cleaned house for her boss and his wife, Gladys. “Gladys always had smothered steak. We didn’t have that much steak at our house,” she said with a chuckle. As time went on, Gladys reduced Ruby’s cleaning duties a bit because the daily dust made her efforts moot and Gladys said no one would notice.
Soon, a young man came on the scene. “There was a misplaced Texas cowboy in Oklahoma who bought a ranch northwest of Shattuck — Kay Duke. We started dating. He had a car, could take me to the movies, buy me a steak dinner once in a while and he loved to dance,” she said. They spent many an evening together at local dance spots.
“He had no plan of getting married, and I didn’t either, but we sort of grew on one another.” The next thing she knew, she married Kay Duke and moved out to the ranch.
“There was no electricity, no running water, no piped-in gas. You had to be young, dumb and happy and in love, but I was happy – extremely happy,” she said smiling as she thought of those days.
“As a pioneer ranch woman, we had some funny happenings,” Ruby said.
“Ranching is hard work. You hit the floor at five o’clock and you’re set for the day – all day.
“My first wash day, I looked like I could bite a tin-penny nail in two and I felt the same,” she said.
“There was a stick that moved the dash to make the wash go. Then you had a boiler – and you boiled your whites a while,” Ruby explained with a look of exasperation.
When the Oklahoma Dust Bowl began in earnest, everything changed. They went into a survival mode. Ruby took the down the curtains and bed spreads. She just put sheets on their bed because the dust made it impossible to keep them clean. She covered the furniture with sheets to protect it.
Fortunately, this was before the couple had their four children.
Each night the dust blew. The next morning there was a dirty film over everything it reached. “This was like powder. You couldn’t wipe it off. You had to wash it off. That didn’t start you for a happy day,” Ruby said. Before she could make breakfast, the kitchen floors and cabinets had to be scrubbed with soap and water daily, she explained.
Her husband, wearing a bandana around his nose to block the dust, would head to the barn to tend the livestock. “Before he got to the barn, he would just be a shadowy figure,” Ruby explained.
She described Black Sunday, April 14, 1935, when black blizzards of dust rolled across Oklahoma. “We were at home and Kay went out on the porch and he called to me. All you could see was rolling thumping coming toward you. We went back into the house. It was so black, you couldn’t see your hand in front of you. We stood in the living room with our arms around each other. I was crying and Kay was trembling. It rolled over us and went on. Gradually, the light returned.
“In Beaver [Oklahoma], the sand would blow over the fences and you could walk right over the fence in the corners.”
Of the experience, Ruby said, “I guess it must have fortified me, because here I am!”
After the Dust Bowl days, “Kay had wanted to enlarge his ranching business and go where there was better grassland. We were sitting on the porch one evening and looking out across the landscape and it seemed the sage brush took on a silvery hue. There were two creeks and lots of trees in the background and further to the south there was a high flat hill where it was rumored that in the early Indian days, when the Indians roamed, that was a lookout for them. I said to Kay, ‘Isn’t that the most beautiful scenery?’
Kay Duke responded, ‘Ruby, cattle can’t eat scenery.’
“This in turn caused me to do some serious thinking. We decided to tour all of Oklahoma. We stopped in many places and talked to real estate people,” Ruby Duke said.
“When we came to Pawhuska, there were red vinyl curtains blowing out of a window on Kihekah. My husband said, ‘Should we stop here?’ Nope, I said, let’s go on,” Ruby Duke said.
They went on to visit Ponca City that day, but nonetheless ended up purchasing a ranch near Pawhuska soon thereafter.
“We moved to Pawhuska in 1952 and we were happy and never looked back,” she said. “Our cattle felt like they had found heaven and we did too. That was good ole’ bluestem grass.”
She and Kay had four children – three sons and a daughter. The youngest son, Ricky, was born after the move to Pawhuska. Kay Duke died in December 1975 and their son, Ricky, graduated from Pawhuska High School the following year.
At the time, they were living at 403 E. 7th Street in Pawhuska.
“When Ricky left to go to college I didn’t cry and didn’t show much emotion until after he drove away. For the first time in my life, I realized I was all alone. I went back to the house and threw a ring-tail fit. If you’d seen me, you’d have thought I was crazy – and maybe I was,” she said.
However, soon thereafter, she threw herself into GFWC – Heeko and volunteerism. “I became involved,” Ruby said.
As a GFWC – Heeko Club member, Ruby chaired or participated in many projects. Here are a few highlights as described by Eileen Monger, who introduced Ruby at the meeting.
Ruby spearheaded efforts to clean up Pawhuska, meeting with the city manager seven times in 2003 to discuss the need to clean up the town. As a result, a code enforcement officer was hired to put teeth in the project.
Ruby also wrote to absentee property owners in Pawhuska’s historic district and organized a committee to decorate empty businesses on Kihekah Avenue.
She was instrumental in the renovation of the Blacksmith House, which now serves as the offices for the Chamber of Commerce. She chaired a two-year community improvement committee, enlisting the help of the city manager, chamber of commerce and the newspaper. “We worked together,” she said.
Ruby was given the “Outstanding Volunteer Award” in 2002 for her many efforts.
In addition, she has served in several capacities for the GFWC – Heeko Club, including as its president in 1957-58.
As a leader in GFWC – Heeko, Ruby was always full of fun. She organized, what became the first of many, “style shows” for the club and has participated in many skits.
“Ruby has always been our mentor,” said Eileen Monger. “Today we wore our hats for Ruby Duke Day.”
Of her warm introduction, Duke said, “No wonder I’m so tired!”
At the conclusion of the meeting, Heeko member and Oklahoma GFWC President Joyce Ward thanked Ruby for her contributions over the years and gave her a gift of the first newly-released Oklahoma GFWC lapel pin.
These days Ruby, who will be 95 on Aug. 12, is still going strong. She lives in Norman, Okla., and spends time with her family.
Several family members accompanied her to the meeting including: son Kelly and his wife Kathy Duke of Bixby, Kelly’s son/Ruby’s grandson Kasey Duke – a youth minister in Gore, Okla., and daughter Gayle Kerwin and her husband Jim Kerwin of Norman.
Summing up her life experiences, Ruby said, “I’m so glad I have had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people along the way, and have been fortunate to participate in so many interesting activities with a wonderful family with me all the way.”

General Federation of Women’s Clubs — Heeko Club Celebrates 100 Years!

Ed and Joyce Ward


The General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC)  – Heeko Club in Pawhuska celebrated 100 years on Feb. 14.

Member and current GFWC Oklahoma President Joyce Ward recently spoke to the local Kiwanis Club about the purposes of this service organization and high moments of the GFWC – Heeko Club.

The Pawhuska gets its name “Heeko” from the Osage word for learning.

To understand the GFWC, one must be introduced to its founder, Jane Cunningham Croly. Croly’s family emigrated to the United States from England and settled in New York.

In 1854, when Croly was 25, she moved to New York City in search of work after her father died. She took jobs at the New York Sunday Times and Noah’s Weekly Messenger, where she began using the pen name Jennie June, and wrote a column called “Parlor and Side-walk Gossip.”

In 1856 she married a journalist named David G. Croly, who as an editor is credited with originating the format of the modern Sunday newspaper.

In 1857 Jane Croly’s popular column became one of the first syndicated columns written by a woman.

Croly’s decision to form a women’s group stemmed from her being denied admittance to an 1868 press club dinner honoring novelist Charles Dickens.

After this unpleasant experience, she formed a club called Sorosis, which is a Greek word meaning “an aggregation; a sweet flavor of many fruits.” Croly invited women’s clubs throughout the United States to attend a ratification convention in New York City in April 1890. Sixty-three clubs attended and formed the General Federation of Women’s Clubs.

Perhaps because it was founded as a federation of women’s clubs, GFWC’s mission is broad. GFWC projects tackle many social issues.

Now an international organization, GFWC has had its hand in so many different projects that it would be difficult to list them all. Here are just a few of the U.S. projects: creation of responsible child labor laws, creation of fair laws for juvenile courts, the establishment of public libraries, support of the Pure Food and Drug Act, efforts to limit the workday to eight hours, assistance to soldiers wounded in war, the Indian Welfare Committee for disenfranchised Native Americans, education on home economics such as canning and storing food during periods of economic hardship, the Equal Rights Amendment, selling war bonds during WW II (which funded the purchase of 431 U.S. war planes), the seat-belt campaign, youth suicide prevention, a crime reduction program called “Hands Up,” the “Brighten the Night” campaign to bring street lights to communities, and programs to end domestic violence.

To learn more about GFWC and Croly’s remarkable life, visit the GFWC website

The moxie of the founder resonates through the GFWC – Heeko Club. In fact, Joyce Ward’s husband, Ed Ward, said that in one city council meeting some time ago the mayor at the time was heard to say, “If you want something done around here, get the Heeko ladies involved.”

To say that the Heeko club is involved is an understatement. The efforts of the GFWC – Heeko Club have changed the face of Pawhuska.

The GFWC – Heeko Club in Pawhuska spearheaded the effort to establish the Osage County Historical Society Museum, the Pawhuska Hospital, the Senior Center and the Step-on Pawhuska tour, to name a few.

GFWC is a generational tradition in Joyce Ward’s family, as it is for many members. Her mother, Rose Downey of Pawhuska, was president of the Heeko Club in 1966 when the GFWC – Heeko Club won a prestigious award — first place in the GFWC International Community Service Award, which awarded the Heeko Club a $10,000 prize.

The Heeko Club won the honor based on their two-year service project (1964-1966) called “Pride in Pawhuska.” This project focused on the Osage County Historical Society Museum, the founding of “Heritage Week” in Pawhuska and free vision and auditory testing for elementary school-aged children.

Most of the funds from this award were donated to the effort to convert the old Santa Fe Railroad train station depot into the Osage County Historical Society Museum, Ward said.

In 1962-1964, the GFWC – Heeko Club’s service project called “Boom Pawhuska” won fourth place and $1,000 for its efforts to improve Pawhuska.

Joyce Ward and her husband, Ed Ward, showed a copy of a 2001 GFWC magazine “Club Woman” article about their donation of a one-of-a-kind cookbook by the GFWC founder to the GFWC headquarters.

Ed Ward explained that he had inherited the books from his mother. When he was going through the books, he found this Jennie June cookbook.

Joyce Ward was delighted to find this single-edition cookbook, which had been published in 1867, in her possession.

Ed Ward said they had had the cookbook appraised, and learned that it was quite valuable.

Nonetheless, the couple decided to donate the cookbook in 2001 to the GFWC headquarters in Washington, D.C.

In addition to recipes, the cookbook contained helpful advice in the margins. One example is: “Eat slowly as if it were a pleasure you desire to prolong rather than a duty to be got rid of as quickly as possible,” or “Never wear anything during the day that you have worn at night, and never wear anything during the night that you have worn during the day.”

Joyce Ward surmises, “This was probably a cookbook for young brides.”

She went to visit the cookbook after the donation at the GFWC headquarters and was moved by the care with which it was being preserved. “It was very emotional – like seeing your child,” Joyce Ward said. Wearing white gloves, “[t]hey went up the ladder and pulled it out and showed it to me … That was the only copy they could ever find. Her family didn’t even know she had written one,” Joyce Ward said.

Joyce Ward is currently Oklahoma President of GFWC. Her two-year state project is to assemble school supplies donated by GFWC clubs throughout the state and deliver them to school children in Afghanistan.

The first shipment of 240 backpacks, and additional supplies for teachers, shipped out with the Oklahoma National Guard when they left for Afghanistan recently.

For more information about Oklahoma GFWC and donating school supplies to this cause, visit their website at