The Straight River Women of Today (SRWT) chapter was extended by the Owatonna Women of Today in 1981 when Cherry Schwartz was District Director. Gary Schwartz has been a member/advisor to Straight River, whose members were special needs, since they were chartered. They met monthly for many years at the Careers Training Center, a sheltered workshop where many members worked. They grew to about 50 members maximum and worked with the Owatonna Women of Today, Owatonna Jaycees and several local groups to sponsor programming.
Officers were elected every 6 months; paperwork, etc., was completed by "advisors" who also arranged programs at meetings and set up fundraising. Their major fundraiser for many years was a pumpkin harvest in a local farmer’s field and then marketing them.
About 1990, the pumpkin harvest ended as the city fall festival was scrapped. They then began working with the Owatonna Jaycees to help with fertilizer spread and took over the entire project when the Jaycees quit. They had up to 80 customers, and spread fertilizer and crabgrass preventer/fertilizer, as well as sprayed for broadleaf weeds twice a year.
Over the next 30 years they raised over $200,000. This money was donated to several charities, many of which were for people with special needs. This included Owatonna Parks and Recreation for their programming for special needs individuals, adaptive playground equipment for Jaycee Park (with grants from the Women of Today Foundation), flowers for the planter each year, and handicapped accessible picnic tables at the Jaycee Park. There is a plaque at the park with credit to the MNWT Foundation for the adaptive playground equipment.
They also made significant donations to several statewide programs including:
Their major service project was the annual trek to Camp Friendship over the Memorial Day weekend. The Camp Along Clean-A-Thon started at a Minnesota Jaycees event; but by 2015, the Straight River Women of Today was the only group still active in the project. 20-25 members and family stayed in the Volunteer house from Friday to Monday afternoon. They worked in the Uncle Fogy Nature Center to clear winter deadfall so that summer campers could take rides on wagons and connect with the nature world. They also removed several large, dead trees near the cabins. This was done primarily by the son of one of their members who was a professional arborist.
Unfortunately, all programs ended when Covid-19 restricted activities for their members. The chapter officially disbanded in December of 2020 as many members stayed in Assisted Living residences and were restricted from community activities.
Through all these years, Gary and Cherry have been the primary advisors for the group. They still maintain a relationship with members of the Straight River chapter, and ensured when they disbanded that additional money was donated to the Foundation to maintain the Straight River scholarship.
The major players to begin the chapter and keep it running were:
Their children and grandchildren provided support for many of the programs we conducted in Owatonna and labor at the Camp Friendship events. Cherry and Gart will continue to support the Straight River Scholarship when the funds become depleted.
Here is an abbreviated history of the Straight River WT.:
The chapter officially disbanded in December of 2020. SRWT was not allowed to continue programming because of the Covid-19
restrictions on their members. Many of them stayed in "Assisted Living" residences and were restricted from community activities.
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