Fifty years ago, 19 Dunwoody women gathered in a private home to form an organization dedicated to community service. Thus began the Dunwoody Woman’s Club, one of the most significant organizations in Dunwoody history.
“Dunwoody was really young then, mostly country,” said founding member Anne Baynham. “We weren’t aware of the significance of what we were doing. We just saw a need.”
As a chapter of the Georgia Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC), the DWC committed to choosing a community impact project (CIP) every two years in one of five areas: arts and culture, civic engagement and outreach, education and libraries, environment, and health and wellness.
The new club took their commitment seriously and during their early years chose as their CIPs the institutions that became the Dunwoody library, the Stage Door Players (now Stage Door Theatre), the Spruill Center for the Arts, the Spruill Gallery and the Dunwoody Nature Center. All were achieved before the club was 20 years old.
Now 92 members strong, the DWC is still active in those organizations, in addition to many other projects including annual college scholarships for promising young women leaders and Dunwoody’s much-anticipated annual Home Tour.
In recognition of its many achievements, the DWC received the 2021 GFWC top award, the Federation Cup – for the nineteenth time. A fitting award for the club’s 50th anniversary.
One reason the DWC has made such an impact is that besides being committed to community service, many of the members have previous business and leadership experience. Maria Barnhart, for example, the current president, was an analyst with the U.S. Treasury Department for 37 years.
They also bring great personal passion to whatever they do, as exhibited by the founding of the Dunwoody Nature Center.
In 1975, after DeKalb County acquired 33 wooded acres from two families on Roberts Drive, DWC selected the property called Dunwoody Park as their CIP. At the same time, they were involved with forming the North DeKalb Arts Alliance with the hope of starting a cultural arts center.
DWC recruited other volunteers and cleaned up the park, planted gardens and in 1976 welcomed the (DeKalb) North Arts Center to one of the houses. The volunteer coalition kept the park running until 1985, when the North Arts Center moved to its new home at the North DeKalb Cultural Arts Center (the former Dunwoody Elementary School).
When DWC member Kathy Hanna, a passionate environmentalist from California, learned from a neighbor that the county was planning to “develop” the property, she and another DWC conservationist, Pat Adams, vowed to save it. They pulled in three other DWC members, and with the backing of DeKalb County Commissioner Jean Williams, convinced the county to spare the property from development.
When asked how they planned to use it, they said, “As a nature center!”
The county’s one requirement was that someone live full-time in the house remaining on the property.
None of the women had ever started a nature center before, but what they lacked in experience they made up for with passion – and the guidance of Hanna’s neighbor John Ripley Forbes, a naturalist who had established nature centers across the country.
“He told us, ‘I can’t give you money,’” said Hanna, “’but I can give you advice.’”
Other groups joined them, including the Spalding Garden Club, and they did a massive two-year clean-up of the property. They opened as the Dunwoody Nature Center in 1990 and incorporated in 1992, with Pat Adams president of the board, which was composed of members of many other Dunwoody volunteer organizations.
“We started with seven couples each giving $1,000,” said Adams.
The first director lived in the house rent free as part of her salary. Unpaid DWC members taught most of the classes.
Twenty-nine years later, the rest is history.
Next on the calendar is DWC’s 48th annual Dunwoody Home Tour, its major source of funding, on Oct. 6. This year will feature two homes in Dunwoody and one in Sandy Springs.
“They all have the most beautiful light fixtures I’ve ever seen,” said Home Tour Chair Diane Norris.
Added this year are two home decorating sessions at Southern Comforts with Marc Jones, “the consignor’s designer,” decorating the same room in two different styles. Registration information is on the tickets, which are on sale at local retailers and online at https://www.dunwoodywomansclub.com/home-tour.
What these women have done for Dunwoody with no fiscal remuneration and little personal recognition is priceless. Here’s to another 50 years of outstanding leadership!