Sixty Years of Joyful Community at UUFA and Beyond

By Susan Curtis

The Diamond JUUbilee Celebration centers on community in October. Please join us as we remember the times that have drawn us together and the activities that have led us beyond our doors.

Members and friends share treasured memories here.

For many, coming into the UUFA community has begun with New UU sessions. The introduction/orientation class for newcomers to the Fellowship has been held under some name (not always New UU) for at least 20 years. Coordinated by the Membership Committee, the sessions have been led in the past by John and Helen Wilcox, Harry and Joy Schomberg, and Susan Gross. Larry Dendy has led the program for the past five or six years. The classes, usually held in fall, winter, and spring, begin with participants describing their spiritual journeys and include an overview of Unitarian Universalism and UUFA’s history, services, programs and activities. For over a decade the Membership Committee has also warmly welcomed newcomers at the Visitors/Membership Table before and after services, distributing visitor cards as well as information packets newly revised by Carol-Lee Baker.

The Morning Glories SGM visits Elberton.
The Morning Glories SGM visits Elberton.

Once inside the doors, UUFA members and friends have a wide range of options for joining the community beyond the Sunday morning hours. Weekly events include the women’s Thursday lunches, currently meeting at Jason’s Deli, and the men’s breakfasts Tuesdays at Panera Bread and Thursdays at Cracker Barrel (Frank Boardman). Knitters and crocheters, both UUs and others, meet Tuesday afternoons – a ten year tradition formerly called PLY (Peace/Love/Yarn!) – at Panera Bread (Gaybriel Jones). Wednesday evening potluck draws people to the Fellowship Hall and has in the past attracted participants whose sole contact with UUFA was through those weekly meals.

UUs enjoy monthly gatherings, too. Book Talks, the UUFA book reading group, was started in 1977 by Bob Covi. The group meets the second Sunday of the month, after the second service, from September through May. Reading selections are posted on the bulletin board in the Fellowship Hall. Members take turns preparing a light lunch (Clarissa Finco). Second Lookers offers men and women who are retired an opportunity to catch up with each other over brown bag lunches and coffee second Tuesdays at noon at UUFA (Hester Meyers). The Family Dinner Group, initiated by Shannon Sharp about three years ago, often meets monthly on Saturday evenings for Simple Suppers at the Fellowship, after earlier years of gathering at the Fellowship as well as at local restaurants. For several years Circle Suppers, with participants changing groups at the annual Switcheroo, brought monthly dinners prepared by group members. The Switcheroo so far lacks a coordinator in 2014. During her stint as a Lay Minister and continuing now, Patty Freeman-Lynde has hosted monthly Friday game nights at the Fellowship, currently centering on Scrabble and highlighted by her Auntie Anne’s cookies.

The 'luck' part of a hootluck.
The ‘luck’ part of a hootluck.

Inviting activities are likely to pop up throughout the UUFA’s year. Hootlucks, communal suppers hosted in members’ homes and followed by everyone joining in song, began about six years ago. Recently Reverend Alison and Paul Eskildsen have hosted Hootlucks attended by 30-40 folks. Care Rings, for members, may also gather for meals once or twice a year. Kay Fors’ file on coordinating December Progressive dinners goes back to 1991 when someone handed the planning off to her. The opportunity to coordinate the 2014 Progressive Dinner is open. David Jarrett has welcomed enthusiastic crowds to Seders for close to 20 years, first working with Bob and Karen Covi and Lee Feather, and more recently with Shannon Sharp and Illona Stewart serving as coordinators. Illona also organizes celebrations of Pagan milestones throughout the year. Myrna Adams West hosts the Goddess Group Tea each year in December. Dear to many UUFA members are the semi-annual fall treks to The Mountain in North Carolina. Kay Fors remembers the 1979 trip by UUFA members to help clean up the then newly purchased camp and conference center to ready it for a Thanksgiving dinner. The spring and fall Work Days at UUFA provide exercise and fun at a lower elevation.

For over a decade beginning in the mid 1990’s Claire Clements organized multiple summer activities including rafting on the Chattahoochee, hiking, picnicking at Memorial Park, tubing in Helen, traveling to plays and festivals around Georgia, and much more – including celebrations at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Both adults and children build community through participating in UUFA’s Lifelong Learning programs, discussed in Meredyth Fleisher’s earlier Diamond JUUbilee posthttp://www.uuathensga.org/our-lifespan-learning-past-and-present/. In addition adults and children alike have enjoyed child-focused special events throughout the year: Easter egg hunts, “Sailing into Summer” water play day, Peace Camps, Hogwarts School at the Pyramid, the Halloween carnival, summer and fall conferences at The Mountain, December’s Nifty Gifty, pizza parties for youth and visits to nearby congregations to name a few. People of all ages participate in worship services, sometimes drawing on acting ability, notably that of John Olive, to delight the congregation with the children’s Religious Education production of “A Christmas Carol” and the choir’s presentation of “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” in recent years.

Hogwarts devotees gather at UUFA
Hogwarts devotees gather at UUFA

The Fellowship’s decades of opportunities for community building through spiritual growth – Small Group Ministry, Stepping Stones, the Goddess Group and more – are traced in Myrna Adams West’s post, The Evolution of Spiritual Arts at UUFA (http://www.uuathensga.org/the-evolution-of-spiritual-arts-at-the-unitarian-universalist-fellowship-of-athens-1954-2014/). Participation in UUFA’s music ministry, described by Myrna Adams West in UUFA’s Fabulous Music Program (http://www.uuathensga.org/uufas-fabulous-music-program-1981-2014/) has drawn members together since 1981.

Serving in the congregation’s governance (http://www.uuathensga.org/uufa/uufa-board-governance/board-of-trustees/)   and programs (http://www.uuathensga.org/uufa/about-the-fellowship/activities-committees-overview/) through UUFA’s committees and task forces also invites community building. Over the decades members and friends have gotten to know one another by selecting areas of interest aligned with their talents and then getting to work.

Not surprisingly, fundraising efforts have reached beyond the congregation to the wider community. Kay Fors and Elizabeth Bishop-Martin remember talent shows, coffeehouses and annual auctions reaching back to the Prince Avenue days. Among the highlights: Ann Nalls belly dancing, Elizabeth and Stu Fors singing “Indian Love Call,” Don and Violet Dawes teaching the chicken dance, and former minister Mitch Howard reading his poetry.  Many members can recall the production of “The Wizard of Oz” with Elizabeth as the wicked witch and John Olive as the tin man, along with Elizabeth’s grandson, Stu Fors and Jim Woodruff. Other plays featured Larry Dendy’s son Chris and Jeanie Shirley.

David Sweaterman interviews the Oldest Living Unitarian (Ange Kahn) at a fundraiser
David Sweaterman interviews the Oldest Living Unitarian (Ange Kahn) at a fundraiser

Bob and Karen Covi and Lee Feather directed several musicals featuring members and friends, most recently the hilarious “Macaroni Western” ably sheriffed by Bill Horton. The Covi’s along with Lee Feather and David Jarrett organized RestaUUrants as fundraising dinners several years ago.

In recent years the Fundraising Committee led by Karen Porter and then Julie Sapp with help from many members directed annual yard sales at Rosemary Woodel’s barn before moving to the Fellowship, held dinners and auctions, occasionally led trips to Sapelo Island, created Christmas arrangements led by Pat Marshall, met the community by wrapping Christmas presents at Barnes and Noble, and more. Over the years Kay Fors organized 4th Sunday lunches, later co-chairing with Julie Sapp, with long lists of cooks and clean-up helpers on call. In 2013 the UUFA Board took over the fundraising event function before moving toward removing fundraising from the Fellowship budget for the 2014/2015 fiscal year.

UUFA members have impacted the wider community through the commitment of members to social action and justice. Find a detailed list of organizations which have benefited by the work of individual UUs as well as a description of the work of the Social Action Committee in this Diamond JUUbilee post. http://www.uuathensga.org/justice-and-social-action-our-june-juublilee-focus/

Beyond helping establish human service and justice organizations in the Athens area, members and friends of UUFA have led and supported cultural organizations. For example, Diana Cerwonka and Dick Anderson were early presidents of Learning in Retirement founded in 1994. Members have continued to participate as volunteer leaders and presenters in the years since as LIR has transitioned to OLLI@UGA with support from the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

Adding color outdoors
Adding color outdoors

In addition to adding beauty to the building and grounds of the Fellowship, outlined here (http://www.uuathensga.org/the-inventory-of-our-surroundings/) by Diane Bridges, members and friends have been active in community arts organizations, enriching the lives of others who experience their work. Among the artists who have participated in OCAF (the Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation, founded in 1994) are Elizabeth Bishop-Martin, Bob Clements, Claire Clements, Gaybriel Jones, Linnea Kent, Roger Moore, Larry Petroff, and Bill Pierson. Many of these people as well as others have also shown works at the Lyndon House and participated in the Athens Area Arts Council, both created in the 1990’s.

UUFA musicians have enriched the community beyond the Fellowship. Starting in the 1990’s Elizabeth Bishop-Martin, Jean Bryan, Tom Riis, Diana Torell and others sang in the Athens Master Chorale. The Athens Choral Society has included Elizabeth, Jean and others. Elizabeth remembers performing with the nine-member Vox Fort Claire with Tom and others, especially an evening at the Fellowship when Kevin Giese Sweat, then about four, “sat on the floor beside me while we were singing – no stage on those days at Prince Ave.  I felt something on my leg and looked down to see Kevin’s small hand on my leg. Like a lot of kids, the feel of nylons was intriguing.  We sang, trying to keep a straight face, me giving please-help-me glances to Kay and David to no avail – guess music doth have charms.” Ruth Koch started a recorder group that included Elizabeth and Hank Raichle. Bill Sutton and Stu Fors both played in the Classic City Band and Bill played with a brass quartet around town. Several members and former members have sung with the Lyric League.

Herb and Myrna Adams West have shared their folk music with groups across north Georgia for forty years. Former member Jean Spencer is a singer-songwriter who was at one time the office administrator at UUFA before moving to Atlanta. Debbie Hardegree played guitar and sang in coffeehouses in the heyday of such establishments. Since starting in the 1980’s, Diana has performed with the Squalls (later the Jolly Beggars). About that same time Rhett Crowe was playing the electric bass with Guadalcanal Diary. Wallace Denton, a long-time harmonica player, has played with the Folk Society Band, along with Diana and Paul Eskildsen. Denise D’angelo Jones writes songs, plays guitar and other instruments, and performs in clubs. Saxophonist Dave D’angelo, UGA’s Jazz Bands director who played with Buddy Rich and other jazz musicians, visits UUFA with his local jazz bands occasionally. Dan Everett and Kate Blane enjoy performing Irish pub tunes with their band, Repent at Leisure. Karen “Pinkie” Bergmann ventures out from her UGA gig to play with Whisper Kiss. Mike Merva, who plays electric bass in the You Band, also plays in several local bands. Brent Litch plays congas in You Band and other groups. Recently Ted Mayer created and now hosts a monthly bluegrass jam at the Fellowship. And trumpet player Garrett Cornell is now a professional sound man with Wiz Audio.

Diana, Debbie and Chip serenade cowboys.
Diana, Debbie and Chip serenade cowboys.

In addition to being a musician, Charlotte Chip Ashurst McDaniel has long appeared on stage, as has Cathi Doherty, a Town and Gown veteran. Patty, Ray, Molly and Amelia Freeman-Lynde have all graced Athens stages. Former member Lindsay Masland was active in local music theater. Recently John Olive added to his long list of performances, playing Polonius and then mathematician Robert in “Proof.” No doubt carloads of UUs will travel to Atlanta’s Horizon Theatre production of “The Santaland Diaries” again this year to enjoy Harold Leaver’s fifteenth Crumpet, just one of his Atlanta and Athens area roles.

More memories?

We expect many Fellowship members and friends remember more community building activities, at UUFA and beyond. If you would like them included in this article, please email Susan Curtis at sbcurtis70 at gmail dot com.

Visit the Diamond JUUbilee page here.