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Love of books, friendship bind members of 100-year-old club

It’s very rare for any organization, let alone a book club, to have been around as long as the women’s one in Wichita has, says Jay Price, chairman of the department of history at Wichita State University.
It’s very rare for any organization, let alone a book club, to have been around as long as the women’s one in Wichita has, says Jay Price, chairman of the department of history at Wichita State University. File photo

For a century, the club has provided a meeting place for women.

They have talked about books and family, listened to presentations, eaten good food and promised to do it again the next month.

On Wednesday at 2 p.m. at Larksfield Place dining room, the Book Club will celebrate its 100th birthday.

Its roster has included some of the most prominent and earliest family names of Wichita, such as Anna Bache Long, wife of former U.S. Sen. Chester Long, and the club’s first president. Through the years, other members’ names have included Clapp, Naftzger, Davison, Eby, Innes, Lambe, Stanley and Buck.

“Members are chosen carefully; if you are not a reader, you are not going to last,” said Sondra Langel, a member for the past four years.

The fact the club is celebrating its centennial is an anomaly.

“A hundred years ago, a book club was common; maintaining for that long has always been a challenge, especially generation after generation,” said Jay Price, chairman of the department of history at Wichita State University. “It is very rare for organizations to maintain that level of commitment without a little institutional structure such as is found in a church or Masons.”

As a general rule, Price said, the typical lifespan for a club like this is two to three years.

No institutions guide this club – just friendship. The average age of the roughly two dozen members is between 60 and 70, Langel said.

The club was formed in the fall of 1914. The meetings were first held in the old City Hall building, now the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum.

Now the meetings are held in members’ homes.

“It offered a unique strategy for reading,” Langel said. “When it was new, it was difficult to get books. They were expensive, and so the reason for the club initially was to trade books, exchange them. That’s what made this club different than others: The members were not all reading the same book at the same time.

“And still, our meetings are not for discussing particular books but to enjoy lectures and discussions on many cultural, artistic and literary subjects.”

When Nancy Landon Kassebaum and Melodee Eby joined the club in 1965, they were some of the youngest members, Eby said.

“Now I am the longest-term member,” Eby said.

Kassebaum Baker, the former senator, is a member emeritus who hopes to attend the December meeting, according to Eby.

“It really is a group of dear, delightful people,” said Eby, 78. “I would say I am one of the worst readers in the group, but you get attached to the group.

“There is no pressure; it is a friendly group that is more social than intellectual exercise.”

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @beccytanner.

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