70 years for BT: Charter member Dorothy Kirk recalls early days of local PEO chapterWORTHINGTON — In today’s world, where communication is instant and change is constant, few things seem relevant for more than seven minutes, much less 70 years. But PEO Chapter BT of Worthington marked its 70th anniversary on April 10, proving it has stood the test of time. Chapter BT has more than 60 current “sisters,” as PEO members are known — one of whom is a charter member of the group.
By: Jane Turpin Moore, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — In today’s world, where communication is instant and change is constant, few things seem relevant for more than seven minutes, much less 70 years.
But PEO Chapter BT of Worthington marked its 70th anniversary on April 10, proving it has stood the test of time. Chapter BT has more than 60 current “sisters,” as PEO members are known — one of whom is a charter member of the group.
PEO, an international philanthropic women’s organization that promotes educational opportunities for women and originated in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, in 1869, has three local chapters, of which Chapter BT is the first.
“When this chapter was formed, Germany was preparing to invade Poland, a first-class postage stamp cost three cents and ‘Gone With the Wind’ was the hit movie in theaters,” listed Judi Hoevet, Chapter BT acting president, at a recent meeting commemorating the group’s milestone.
“I remember — I was there, Charlie,” quipped Dorothy (Brower) Kirk, one of the original 16 women who founded the chapter in the spring of 1939.
Then a 21-year-old woman who had moved to Worthington from Marcus, Iowa, in 1937 with her parents, Cornelius W. and Theodora Brower, Kirk worked at Landers Dress Shop on 10th Street by day and provided piano accompaniment for the Worthington Male Chorus in the evenings.
“Everything here was different then — oh, my,” exclaimed Kirk, recalling the downtown Worthington of her 20s. “Landers Dress Shop had gorgeous clothes. You could go there anytime and find just what you wanted.”
Kirk’s mother, Theodora, was the only child of Theodore and Minnie (Estes) Hinrichs. Theodore was a blacksmith from Wisconsin; his shop was near their home at 1116 Second Ave. (his blacksmith shop is now at Pioneer Village).
Minnie came with her parents from Ithaca, N.Y., to Worthington in 1872 on one of the first trains through town. Family lore has it that Minnie’s “wild” brother didn’t get off the train but continued on to Colorado, where he was involved with the development of Estes Park.
“We moved to Worthington because my mother said it was time to come home to take care of the old folks,” laughed Kirk, noting her grandparents were then “only” 72 and 80 years old.
Kirk and her mother had both been initiated into a PEO chapter in Marcus, Iowa, and Theodora met a few other transplanted PEO members while wearing her PEO pin around town, to the Methodist Episcopal Church and Ladies Aid meetings.
After a number of PEOs became acquainted, they explored the idea of forming a Worthington PEO chapter.
“There were 16 of us listed as charter members, but four more ladies were with us at the start — their charters just didn’t arrive in time for them to make the list,” explained Kirk.
Bella Olson, mother and grandmother of current Chapter BT members Ella Mae Sall and Starr Standafer, respectively, was also a charter member.
On April 10, 1939, Kirk spent a good deal of the morning preparing “perfection salad” and peeling potatoes for the scalloped potatoes and ham dish that was to be served to the 30 or so guests expected for the special meeting. Theodora Brower hosted the event at her house, 1823 Nobles St.
In those days, the Brower home was one of only two residences in the east Nobles Street neighborhood leading to the Worthington Cemetery.
“Jack Boote’s house was out near there,” recalled Kirk, “but otherwise it was pasture all the way to the cemetery, with lots of grazing sheep.”
Kirk’s grandfather, the blacksmith Theodore Hinrichs, had taken it upon himself to plant rows of ash trees on either side of Nobles Street when he first came to Worthington because the Wisconsin native bemoaned the town’s lack of trees and decided there should be at least one “shady lane” in the community. Kirk believes some of the trees Theodore originally planted may still live.
PEO members from chapters in Jackson, Windom and Pipestone joined the Worthington gathering for the founding meeting, and Kirk remembers a funny story regarding her father on that very female-centered occasion.
“The meeting started at 2:30 p.m. and didn’t end until after 6:30 p.m. — I thought it was awfully long — and my father came home from work during that time to get ready for choir practice,” detailed Kirk.
“We heard him knocking on the gray door outside that led either upstairs or down to the basement, and he whispered, ‘I need my trousers,’” recounted Kirk. “My mother threw them down the clothes chute to the basement, where he changed before leaving for choir practice.”
For many years, Kirk, now 91, was the youngest member of Chapter BT and thus filled the office of guard for “a long time, probably because I was the youngest. I thought everyone in the group was awfully old,” chuckled Kirk, mentioning that most of the other initial members were her mother’s age or older.
Kirk became the first bride in Chapter BT when she married Vernon Kirk, a banker at Worthington’s State Bank on 10th Street, in 1940.
“I was a soprano and took piano all through high school — I had to enter all the contests and usually placed second,” recalled Kirk wryly. “I played piano here for a group of men that sang together on Monday nights, and Vernon was in the bass section.”
Kirk was also active musically for decades at what is now First United Methodist Church, and she was the Chapter BT musician for years.
“That’s something our group used to have much more of — live music,” mused Kirk.
Besides her talents for making and appreciating quality music, Kirk is known as a gifted cook and baker. Fellow musician and longtime Chapter BT member Joan Mork shared a tale revealing Kirk’s humor and thoughtfulness.
“I remember sitting in the church balcony with Dorothy one Sunday morning when I wasn’t playing the organ. During the worship service, she reached in her purse for a cough drop to soothe a throat tickle and quietly offered one to me as well,” reminisced Mork.
“I declined, joking that I would rather have a piece of fudge if she had some — she is well known for her incredible chocolate fudge,” continued Mork. “Of course, she didn’t carry that in her purse, but at about 1 p.m. that day, our doorbell rang, and there was Dorothy with a plate of freshly made fudge.”
When daughter Ann entered the Kirk family in 1951, Kirk continued her PEO involvement, moving up through the officer ranks to eventually serve as president of Chapter BT from 1971-’73. Ann Kirk Svingen, herself a PEO of more than three decades, lives in Fergus Falls but visited Chapter BT to surprise her mother and share in the group’s recent celebration.
“I’ve held every office in our chapter except recording secretary,” acknowledged Kirk. “When it came time for me to be the treasurer, my husband said, ‘I’ll handle that — I know how you do a checkbook,’ so for the four years I was treasurer, Vernon managed the chapter’s books.”
Kirk and her husband built two homes together — one on South Shore Drive after World War II and a second on old Highway 16 — but after Vernon’s death in 1978, friends urged Kirk to move back into town. Thus, in 1984 Kirk had a house built in the same east Nobles Street neighborhood, by then minus the sheep pastures, where her grandfather Theodore Hinrichs planted ash trees nearly 100 years earlier.
“Building houses is fun,” expressed Kirk. “If I were younger, I’d do it again.”
Kirk takes pride in the fact that over the 70 years of its existence, Chapter BT has never canceled a meeting due to inclement weather. She is also pleased that Chapter BT led the way for two other Worthington PEO groups.
“It was a good feeling when the other local chapters — EJ and DW — were organized,” assured Kirk. “We knew there were a lot of women who would be interested in PEO, but we couldn’t take in everybody.”
Karen Pfeifer, a 30-year member of Chapter BT, echoes Kirk’s sentiments.
“I love being part of an organization made up of women who support other women,” asserted Pfeifer. “PEOs have fun together, learn together and support the mission of educating women, and it is satisfying to know our projects make such a difference in the lives of the recipients.”
So while Kirk’s days in PEO Chapter BT began well before there were cellphones, computers or televisions, PEO remains an important tradition in her life.
“Sometimes the changes in technology can be pretty scary, and I feel sorry for my grandkids and great-grandkids,” admitted Kirk. “I just assume my grandmother and great-grandmother felt the same way about me.”