Ladies' Aid Society
CHRIS PARKER/TIMES NEWS Joyce Pecha, Marie Lesko and Anne Trauger of the Ladies' Aid Society of St. John Slovak Lutheran Church, Lansford, display quilts they stitched over the years to help raise money for the church.
Marie Lesko gently unfolds the soft, heavy quilt, revealing a field of colorful flowers, meticulously hand-stitched by the women of the Ladies' Aid Society of St. John Slovak Lutheran Church, Lansford.
The quilt, one of several that are kept at the church, tells the story of a more generous time, a time when men sacrificed one hard-earned and precious day's pay each month to build their church, and the women worked faster at their scouring, cooking, laundry and sweeping to be able to find the hours to sew quilts and prepare dinners to keep that church going.
The Ladies' Aid Society of St. John's formed in 1930, when the nation was in the grip of the Great Depression; there was little work, and families struggled to feed their children and keep their homes.
But their spiritual home was as crucial to their lives as their family homes, and the women of the church kept both immaculate and well-run.
At 47 strong, its first members included Anna Sabol, Lena Pohlod, Anna Vrablic, Suzanna Sekela, Anna Kostelnik, Maria Kalny, Anna Kuchta, Suzanna Zlock, Maria Varga.
But in recent years, the increasingly non-stop pace and self-absorption of today's society ground that roster to a handful.
"We don't have enough people coming," said group secretary Joyce Pecha.
On Sunday, about 80 years after the Ladies' Aid Society was formed on May 1, 1930, the last few members of the group, which officially disbanded on April 27, were honored by the Rev. Marjorie Keiter at a special service.
"They raised their families, worked and contributed to the life of the church," Keiter said.
The Ladies Aid Society also provided a chance to socialize, Lesko said.
"We didn't run from barroom to barroom," she says with a chuckle. "We ran from church to home."
"The church was the center of everyone's life," says Pecha.
The group's fundraising work began with dinners and, later, quilting.
"The ladies would sell raffle tickets in the spring and the fall before their bazaar," Keiter said. "The prize would be the quilt, which had been on display in town."
The quilts warmed not only the hearts of those dedicated to the church. The hand-stitched symbols of comfort and good will extended beyond the walls of St. John's, helping to support the needy in Eastern Europe and to help ill children. In August 2007, the Ladies Aid Society received a thank-you letter from Dream Come True President Eileen Thompson for an Amish Log Cabin quilt given to Dr. Edward Miller for the organization.
"We are thankful for the donation of the quilt, which will be sold in a silent auction at a Dream Come True event in September," the letter said.
Ladies Aid Society President Marie Lesko, a feisty 88, had been attending weekly meetings and helping to cook, set tables and clean up for fundraising dinners since she was a child and her own mother, Mary Kalny, was a member.
"I used to have to come with my mother. I had to sit there and behave myself," she says.
Lesko didn't sit idle, though.
"I used to help out with the ladies they had a little lunch. I helped clean up," she recalls.
At the time, the quilting had not yet started. Instead, the ladies made dinners to raise funds and to feed the ministers who attended conferences at the church.
"We young girls would have to do the serving and the clean up/cleanup," she says. "The bull-work. Our mothers would do the cooking."
Lesko's father, Matthew, was the church janitor, and she was baptized into the church when she was 2 days old. As she grew, "I had to come here every Friday and sweep the church. Every Saturday, dust the church and do the toilets," Lesko says.
Lesko became an adult member of the Ladies Aid Society when she returned from nurse's training at the then-Philadelphia General Hospital in 1943.
"I liked what they did. I liked working with the church," she says.
The group raised money through bake sales and dinners to renovate the church kitchen the church, at Tunnel and Abbott streets, was dedicated in 1904 and the kitchen in the parsonage and modernize the community room in the church basement. The ladies' hard work also paid for the copier, insurance, the telephone, boxes of candy for those who attend Christmas Eve services and innumerable other necessities, Keiter says.
The last fundraiser, a bake sale and bazaar, was held in October. The $1,250 they raised was matched by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. The money still in the group's account will be managed by a committee, Keiter said.
"The organ needs repair work, and the bells need work," Keiter said. "The committee will decide how to distribute the funds."
What does Lesko recall most fondly about the Ladies Aid Society?
"The camaraderie, the closeness," she says. "We were like a family. There was no dissension. Everybody cooperated. We shared recipes. When we had a function and made potato salad, we'd ask, well, how do you make it? And you make yours? We got together and compromised and made it a certain way, or made her potato salad and her creamed cucumbers and her pickles. And that's how we did it."
The handful of active members left Amy Kmetz, Anne Trauger, Irene Hudasky (in her 70s, the youngest member), Joyce Pecha and Lesko hold those memories dear.
Pecha joined the society 18 years ago, after she retired from her job at clothing factory.
"After you're done working, then the church needs the help," she says.
Trauger joined 15 years ago at the behest of then-Pastor Kenneth Gould.
"I was very busy working, and he thought that I did such a good job as being a recording secretary that he could use me in the church," she said. "So I agreed, and I came and I'm still here."
Keiter, as a pastoral student in 2003-04, was drawn in to the group.
"They taught me to quilt," she recalls. "They gave me a quilt that I had worked on as a gift for my anniversary here. I treasure it, and sleep under it every night."