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Persephone Guild turning 70
Persephone was the daughter of the Greek goddess Ceres. It's also the name of the oldest continuous Ceres service club with some of its charter members still active.

The group, founded in June of 1938, is celebrating its 70th anniversary next month.

The Persephone (pronounced "pur-sef-o-nee") Guild had to keep membership at approximately 30 members because there were "so many anxious to join," said charter member Sarah Cuddy. "We were young and ambitious. Now it's hard to get new people to join."

While today's generation of young people have less time and are less inclined to join service clubs, Persephone's numbers remain at about the the same level.

"Turnover is not as big as it would seem," said Jan Vilas-Conway. "Once they're in they stay."

Cuddy remembers how originally members had to be younger than 35 years of age. That changed as original members grew older and didn't want to be turned out.

"We're older now. I am one of the youngest and I'm 60," said Vilas-Conway.

Cuddy is 92.

Virginia "Betty" Parks, who was the namesake for a Ceres school, is also active as a charter member.

The club's mission has never changed in its seven decades of serving Ceres.

"We pretty much have donated to kids," said Cuddy. "Every time there was a new park we bought park tables and chairs and trees. We've always given scholarshps to high school students. We've donated books to school libraries in memory of members who've passed on."

The club gives away scholarships at both Ceres and Central Valley high schools. It also gives the Lena Bell Turner Scholarship away to a high school student pursuing a teaching career. The late Turner once belonged to the guild.

Other efforts include making campership monies available to the Salvation Army Red Shield Center to underwrite summer camp experiences for underprivileged children. Assistance with Sober Grad Nites is another club project.

"Of course we've always given away food baskets during Thanksgiving and Christmas," said Vilas-Conway. "We get the names from Ceres schools and take them to the homes of students who need the help."

Vilas-Conway got involved in the club years ago because her mother, Carol Vilas, and great aunts Leona Rohde and Doris Rohde, were members. She remembers the club teaming up with Florence's Dress Shop in downtown Ceres to put on an annual fashion show. Members modeled ladies clothes while their daughters showed off the children's attire.

"We had salad bars before anyone knew that term," she said.

For years the club was known for its annual Strawberry Breakfast. The event was handed off to another group because Persephone Guild found the insurance costs too high and because of some members became less energetic than they once were.

Today the club has about 30 members who meet once per month for a social time and talk about raising and spending funds on worthwhile causes. Occasionally the ladies have a speaker.

"We like to stay informed," said Cuddy.

"I think this is fascinating that this still goes on," said Vilas-Conway of the tradition of the club.

A celebration of the club's past will take place at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 14 at Harvest Presbyterian Church. Previous members are invited to attend and should RSVP to 537-1441 or 537-2624.

Others can get into the spirit of the Persephone Guild by trying to get their hands on the club's 2008 quilt, which will be raffled off on May 14. The quilt was designed by Conway, who derived inspiration from flowers she spotted on a June visit to China and Tibetan temples. Cuddy sewed the quilt together. The handsome piece is on display at Wistful Times shop, 2938 Fourth Street, Ceres. Tickets may be purchased there and are $5 for six or $1 for one.