As the longest-serving member of the Girard homemakers’ club, Pam Kilen says she has learned a lot from the club over the years.
In the 50s and 60s, homemakers’ clubs used to operate all over Richland County as part of the Montana State University Extension service. Most turned into social clubs before folding up completely, but the Girard homemakers’ club has kept to its original purpose of educating rural women, which is why Kilen, 65, believes it is more than a relic of the past.
“I don’t think ours has (outlived its usefulness), because we learn something every month,” she said.
Raised in Fairview, Kilen moved to Girard after marrying a farmer when she was 19 years old. She says she didn’t know much about being a farm wife at the time, and joining the club helped her pick up valuable skills. “It’s taught me social skills, cooking, sewing, all kinds of things, and I’ve gotten good friendships out of it over the years,” she said.
The social aspect of the club was particularly helpful to Kilen, who admits she was very shy as a young woman. “I think the social skills, and getting to be a part of a community was one very valuable lesson I learned,” she said. “I was very very shy when I was first married. I learned a lot about farming, how farm wives socialize, how they support their families and their men in their jobs. I learned how to socialize with other people.”
Kilen estimates the club had 25 members when she first joined it in 1965. It’s suffered some attrition as the population of the community has dropped, but the Girard homemakers still have 13 active members, including Annie Franz, who joined the Girard club after her local club folded.
Every week, the Girard homemakers’ club holds a meeting, usually at the home of one of the members. They begin by praying together, then move on to that month’s lesson. At this month’s meeting, Carrell Evans of the American Red Cross spoke about disaster preparedness. “She gave us a lot of advice on how to be prepared for emergencies,” Kilen said. “Things we probably should know, but didn’t know.”
One of the most useful skills Kilen has picked up from a homemaker’s club lesson is the ability to refinish furniture, which she learned from a furniture refinishing workshop held at Girard Hall. Kilen brought her grandmother’s china cupboard to the workshop and fixed it up to look like new. “It’s a beautiful piece,” she said. “I wouldn’t have known how to do that on my own.”
Getting involved with the Girard homemakers’ club was an easy decision for Kilen, who says her favorite subject in school was home ec.
She says she always knew she wanted to be a farmer’s wife. Neither of her parents farmed, but she loved visiting her cousins who lived on a farm. Her fallback plan was to study to become a bookkeeper, but shortly after meeting Marvin Kilen, a farmer from Girard, the two were married, and Kilen moved to Marvin’s farm west of Fairview.
“Being in a rural area, to me I feel safer,” Kilen said. “It’s just a good place for kids to grow up. We have two grandkids that grew up here. They can run around, and they don’t have to worry about the traffic running them over because they’re off the highway. They learn things like taking care of the farm, taking care of their machinery, taking care of their vehicles, that they might not learn if they lived in town.”
While she never became a bookkeeper, Kilen has served as the secretary of the Girard homemakers’ club for the last 20 years. She used to take detailed notes when the club was part of the Extension service and had to send its minutes in to the county. Now she simply keeps track of what it’s doing each month. She has also been a member of Richland Farm Mutual’s board of directors for the past several years.
In addition to its monthly meetings, the homemakers’ club has also sponsored candidates forums and informational meetings at Girard Hall. One such meeting focused on the Dry-Redwater Regional Water Authority project.
Kilen says the Girard community has experienced an increase in traffic due to the oil activity in the area, but other than that things haven’t changed much. The club hasn’t changed much either. “Our club has pretty much stayed the same as it always was,” she said. “We have the meetings, usually in our homes, and serve lunch. It’s just been a good way to keep our community solid.”