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It’s More About Community Than Hiking

Thomas P. Caldwell - February 3, 2014

Trekking poles and backpacks are unnecessary when attending a meeting of The Hikers at Melvin Village’s Willing Workers Hall; in fact, such accessories would be out of place. Instead of heading out on the trail, the women who make up The Hikers will be planning bake sales, home tours, or luncheons to raise money for student scholarships and local charities. Their meetings feature guest speakers who may be talking about a craft, a trip to Alaska, a favorite book, or New Hampshire’s moose population.

Having held some events in the 1920s and formally organizing in 1930, The Hikers have a focus on the community, providing annual scholarships to college-bound students as well as supporting other local charities — including, in the early days, giving annual stipends to the Melvin Village Community Church and, more recently, providing a weekly lunch to students at the Melvin Village schoolhouse.

The group has records of its activities in the form of a series of scrapbooks. Among the accounts is an excursion in which the group went from house to house to pick up members, and then they all “hiked up the mountain to have a party” and then returned by wagon. The mountain in question was the former Ossipee Mountain Park which Thomas Plant purchased to build his Lucknow estate, now known as Castle in the Clouds. Plant’s housekeeper was one of the early members of The Hikers.

Hiking up the mountain is not a regular activity of the club. In fact, when current President Joan Magrauth recently proposed a short hike on level ground, her suggestion was met with silence. Only Martha Charnock, who is almost 90 years old, was willing to venture out at this time of the year for the fresh air and exercise.

The group meets on the first and third Thursday of each month from September to June, usually at the Willing Workers Hall. The meetings by tradition take place in the afternoon, although Magrauth concedes that the hour makes it difficult for younger women who hold jobs to take part. Changing it to night meetings, however, would make it difficult for the older members who do not like to travel at night.

“That makes us mostly a Baby Boomers group now,” said Vice-President Norma Metz, who joined The Hikers during the 1970s when the membership roster exceeded 300. Today, there are between 180 and 190 members, ranging in age from the 30s to the 90s, “but we’re still strong, and effective,” she said.

While most of the members reside in Melvin Village, Tuftonboro Center, Wolfeboro, and Ossipee, the membership list extends to Brookfield, Center Sandwich, Laconia, Moultonborough, Meredith, Mirror Lake, and Portsmouth. It also includes members in California, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, New York, Maine, and Massachusetts. Joan said many people who joined here and later moved away nevertheless want to remain members of the group, both to support it and to keep up with the friendships they have established through The Hikers.

Joan recently spoke to the local PTO, both to encourage people to join The Hikers and to broaden the group’s recognition in the community. “We want people to know who we are,” she said. “It helps when we’re trying to raise money, and we wanted to let them know that, if they can’t come to the meetings, they can still participate in some of our events.”

Those events range from house tours to visiting theaters and museums. There are rummage and white elephant sales, baked goods, and holiday open houses. They also hold a meeting at the local library during Library Month.

The monthly meetings generally alternate between business meetings and program meetings, with a variety of guest speakers providing timely and interesting talks. Examples of some of the topics are: the training of service dogs, the legend of Ellacoya, craftmaking, and the Conservation Land Trust. Some of the speakers come through the NH Humanities Council; others are local experts such as the fire chief.

Many traditional activities have changed with the times, said Joan. The Hikers used to make trivets as one of their popular fundraisers; now the remaining trivets are used as gifts for new members. They also used to sell cookbooks, holding a tasting party that featured the recipes as a way of enticing people to purchase the books.

Some events have simply transformed into something new. Norma said the club used to have card parties every June. Those have evolved into a separate Bridge group that includes non-members, but they still meet and make contributions to the Hikers treasury.

What used to be a Gentleman’s Night, when the husbands of members would attend a meeting, has evolved into a Guest Night. The club puts on a pot-luck dinner and invites a speaker such as a former FBI worker to present a program. Another popular speaker was Kristine Rines, the moose biologist for the NH Fish and Game Department.

A spinoff group known as the Pin-Ups has made quilts as fundraisers, and one of the quilts, a black-bordered beauty made with pieces that former member Florence Scott had donated, has come back into the possession of The Hikers which will be raffling it off.

The Hikers also have taken on new projects, such as the watering and weeding of the plants donated by Spider Web Gardens on the triangle in Melvin Village.

They also provide Good Cheer gift plates for shut-ins in the community during the Christmas holidays.

“As a group, we’re the oldest to give scholarships at Kingswood Regional High School,” Joan noted, saying they have had to increase the amount of the scholarships to make them effective and make a difference. The scholarships that used to be around $75 are now in the range of $1,500, and the club gives six to eight scholarships a year to children of Hikers or residents of Tuftonboro. Students may reapply for funds each year they remain in school — not just for college costs, but also for training in firefighting school, to become a golf pro, or to pursue a graduate degree, as long as there are enough funds.

The club has received bequests to supplement what could be raised through bake sales and other activities, but in 2013 The Hikers obtained 501(c)(3) designation which also allows them to accept tax-deductible contributions.

As for building up membership in the group, Norma said members will invite people to join them or to attend as a guest. “If they like us, they join,” she said.

Membership is $10 per year and it includes a popular yearbook that, in addition to listing current officers and past presidents, provides a schedule of programs and — most popular of all — a listing of members with their phone numbers.

“We always welcome new people,” Joan said. 

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