The Hawthorne USO Convention Center was filled with over 60 women and young ladies on May 9, to celebrate the history of the USO. The attendees sat down to decorate tables with linens, proper table settings and most importantly teacups. The crowd dressed up for this afternoon gala; some adorned in lovely hats, some wearing gloves and all in party outfits.
On Saturday afternoon, the gathering included the local Girl Scouts and Brownie Troop, with their leaders who took this opportunity to purchase hats that the girls previously decorated for the event. By attending and learning etiquette techniques, the girls were earning a badge while having fun with the elders of the community. Using teacups proved to be a new experience for the youngest ones, as they carefully filled their delicate cups and balanced plates of small desserts.
Other area women’s groups were represented by the Red Hat Society, The Garden Club, Bunco, The Armed Forces leadership, Chamber of Commerce members, Eastern Star members, various church members, local educators and guests. The event was organized by Shelly Hartman, the Director of Economic Development and her volunteers, Linda Larson, Judy Joseph and Sherre Fence who assisted with the setup, specialty desserts and beverage choices. Others arrived early to help with the final touches and arrange food choices in a charming display. Patricia’s Antiques and Thrift on Main St. donated most of the borrowed tea settings, along with Ruby Hume’s own private tea collection, which allowed every place setting to be uniquely portrayed.
A special display of Hume’s favorite tea set items were arranged for viewing along with her personal high school graduate book. Flowers and plants were brought in from B & B Nursery, which gave the afternoon a spring garden feel.
The tea was designed to honor the history of the USO, and present the legacy of the Hawthorne building. Opening prayer and pledge of allegiance was done by Dorothy Fortenberry. A welcome was made by Shelly Hartman, with Sheri Samson assisting as the MC for the afternoon introductions. The crowned Miss Armed Forces, Jerzi Moody and Jr. Miss Armed Forces, Virginia (Ginger) Prichard were on hand to enjoy the festivities, joining the Girl Scout and Brownie troops on stage for a quick fashion show.
Following refreshments and tea time, Ruby Hume began sharing about her personal memories from her days as a USO hostess in 1945.
“Over 70 years ago, I volunteered in this building as a young teen – wanting to help out and make the soldiers feel at home here. I was just shy of turning 18, and I can remember that May 1, 1945 there was word that Hilter had died in battle. Later we found out it wasn’t true, but I can remember how happy the soldiers were for that one particular night. Most of those Marines and soldiers didn’t want to ship out to Germany, so they were happy guys. Many of those men would go to Normandy (France), in June (6), to fight on the beaches, and many would sadly never come back. Even some of them that we met here and some that lived in town. We lost some of my own student body during World War II and that was hard – very sad.” Hume’s voice trailed off, evident that emotions were still vivid in her mind. “This room had a soda fountain back then, so I’d make them milk shakes and sometimes just offer to listen, or give them paper to write letters. On the weekends this room had the Navy Band playing and we’d all dance. This room would be packed with soldiers and locals that came to make it fun. We wanted the soldiers to be happy here and feel at home.” Hume shared, “this day is so special to me because I collect tea cups and tea pots; I love tea parties and this USO building. All the things I love came together in one day.” Norma Harrington also spoke on the importance of supporting the troops back in 1943. “Ruby and I have known each other for 72 years – in fact, Ruby’s husband was my first boyfriend in elementary school. We’ve been good friends.” Following some humorous exchanges, Norma explained how proud she was of Hawthorne. “I can still remember those dances – it was our Sat. and Sun. hangout. But I was proud of Hawthorne and all we did for those soldiers; and I was raised here, went through school here, married here, had my children here and in the end, it’s family that really matters.”
When Dorothy Fortenberry spoke, she presented a different aspect of growing up during World War II. “
There was a shortage of nurses in the ‘40’s. They made public pleas for regular people to help out with the needs at that time. I can remember taking white sheets and tearing them up into long strips, then we would sit and roll them into bandages for the military to use. We would just jump in and help out where we were needed back then – still do. Guess that’s where we learned it. Anyway, a fun thing was that we had metal skates back then, that had a key to adjust it to fit and we would wear those in here and skate around this room, right here in this USO building. It was a busy building back then.” The guests applauded the speakers and the importance of the afternoon gathering.
Fortenberry found the event to be “needed in the community” and as a past educator, she stated the importance of including the young girls in the history of the older women’s memories and traditions. Hartman announced that a “tea committee” would be formed as this specific event was to kick off Armed Forces Week for the ladies of the community.
Mary Marinello, from Walker Lake and newly appointed to the Tourism board, tearfully thanked the three women for sharing their personal renditions of our history as citizens and giving the legacy in which we can all inherit. She gave a brief overview of why USO buildings were built, and ended with a grateful acknowledgement of respecting tradition, thanking special people that gave of themselves and knowing the blessings of history within Mineral County, specifically Hawthorne.
A rousing applause ended the event, with plans to create more teas in the future. The Economic Development Committee will be hosting a fundraising effort called Divas Day Out, featuring a Handbag/Purse auction to raise funds to supplement the recent financial loss toward Hartman’s paid position.