It’s been a century of learning and friendship for the Friday Study Club in Stillwater

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Gerrie Granquist researched and gave presentations on many topics as a member of the Friday Study Club in Stillwater.

Her most memorable report — one she spent months researching — was on Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Paul Sartre and existentialism.

“I didn’t understand it then, and I still don’t,” Granquist, 89, of Stillwater, said last week during a panel discussion on the club’s history.

Granquist joined the Friday Study Club in 1967, but stopped attending after she took a job at Stillwater Junior High School. But “once you’re a member, you’re always a member,” she told the group gathered at the Stillwater Public Library.

The Friday Study Club was founded as a branch of the Delphian Society, a national organization that promoted women’s education in the arts, literature and history. According to its charter, it was “organized in the interest of social progress, higher education and personal improvement.”

The club has about 25 active members and has met at least once a month — from September through June — since 1924. It originally met twice a month in members’ homes on Fridays; it now meets on the second Thursday of each month in a meeting room at Family Means in Stillwater.

Wait, why does the Friday Study Club meet on Thursday?

When the club transitioned in 2008 from meeting in members’ homes to meeting at Family Means, the space wasn’t available on Fridays, said Becci Dawson Cox, the club’s president. “They kept the name for the sake of tradition,” she said.

The club is open to anyone, but all members thus far have been women, Cox said. Dues are $35 a year.

Jane Dickinson, 80, of Stillwater, joined the Friday Study Club in 1971; her late mother, Jo Dickinson, joined in 1936. “I’m a chip, a legacy, I guess,” Dickinson said.

Dickinson taught kindergarten at Lily Lake Elementary School and was able to attend the club’s meetings when kindergarten was half-day, she said. When the school district moved to full-day kindergarten, Dickinson had to put her membership on pause until she retired in 2010. She remains an active member today.

“What I like about it is I always come away having learned something new and interesting I never would have thought I wanted to learn about,” she said.

‘Scared to death’

One of Dickinson’s most memorable presentations was on “World War I war posters and their artists,” she said. “I took a long time to prepare. This was before the internet. We did all our research at the library, and it was quite a procedure.”

Julie Paukert’s presentation on the Reconstruction period after the Civil War spurred a lifelong interest in the subject, she said.

Friday Study Club members, from left, Julie Paukert, Nancy Langness, Sue Alleva, Peg Quinn and Gudrun Nordby chat after a panel discussion at the Stillwater Public Library on Oct. 12, 2023. The club will celebrate its centennial in 2024. (Mary Divine / Pioneer Press)

“I really got into it,” said Paukert, 80, of Stillwater. “It was something I had never been interested in before, but I am still, to this day, reading books about the Reconstruction period. That’s one of the valuable things about this group. One year, we had the topic of information technology and how it applies to housing, so I learned about geothermal heating. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had.”

But Paukert said her first presentation in 1998 — at the late Anne Magnuson’s house — nearly sent her over the edge.

“We were all sitting in this circle, and I was just scared to death,” she said. “It was on a very small topic called ‘Vitamins and Supplements,’ and that report kept changing every day, and my dining room table was getting higher and higher with all that information.”

“It was difficult to describe things and have everybody understand it,” she said. “I just thought, ‘Well, this is what they told me to do. This is a huge topic, so you do with it what you want. You don’t have to go overboard. Just take parts of it.’ That made it possible to lighten up and do what I wanted with it.”

People may be hesitant to join Friday Study Club “because they think they have to give these speeches,” said longtime member Julie Edstrom, 77, of Stillwater, but the rules have loosened up, and presenters can now include clips of videos in their reports.

Still, Edstrom said, “it’s a really good experience to have to make a speech and then present it. I ended up having to learn how to do slides and the whole bit. I had to work really hard to learn things that I didn’t know, and it was good for me.”

Thanks to Friday Study Club, Edstrom has researched Mexican immigrants in Minnesota and “Blue Zones,” areas of the world where people live the longest lives. “I’ve learned things about subjects I probably would have never studied on my own,” she said. “You get to know a lot of people who have the same interest in learning.”

While researching a presentation on early transportation, club member Kathryn Nelson, 88, discovered that her late husband Nick Nelson’s paternal great-grandfather, Ezekial Reed, was a builder and a captain of steamboats on the St. Croix River. “I said to my husband, ‘Ezekial Reed. That’s the name on our family tombstone,’ and he didn’t even know about it,” she said.

As part of her research, Nelson located Stillwater’s old streetcar barn and “traced the route the streetcar took out of town,” she said. “I also located the old stagecoach stops in Lake Elmo and other places. I just learned so much.”

Nelson joined the club in 1990 after she retired from her position as director of food service for the White Bear Lake school district.

“The programs are always interesting,” she said. “It was almost like doing a term paper. We really did some timely studies. One year, we studied all the Middle East crises and the history of the area, and another year we studied all the religions of the world, so it’s been really educational.”

Hosting the gatherings — once every other year — was stressful, Paukert said. Hostesses would prepare the food, polish the silver tea service and clean house. “It was a lot of work,” Paukert said. “You got rid of your kids and your husband, and you cleaned everything possible.”

“We didn’t have dishwashers, so we didn’t worry about putting the silver in there,” said Carolyn Leys, 93, a club member since 1970. “We washed it all by hand, and it worked out fine.”

Leys’ first presentation for Friday Study Club was on President Herbert Hoover. The club met that month at Lillian Bowell’s house, she said.

“I studied him for at least two months,” she said. “My dining room table was piled high with research materials. I was a nervous wreck. And only 14 people came.”

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What does she remember from her research? Hoover “wanted to do some of the things that (President Franklin D.) Roosevelt did, but Congress wouldn’t let him,” she said.

Leys’ favorite topic to research was Rhode Island, she said. “I’m from Rhode Island, and it was good to tell everybody about the state of Rhode Island.”

Her presentation on the American Revolution, however, was met with some criticism, Leys said.

“I talked for 40 minutes,” she said. “Katherine Van Meier came up to me after I had finished and said, ‘Carolyn, your program wasn’t long enough. It was supposed to be 45 minutes, and it was only 40 minutes.’”

Education clubs

Friday Study Club is one of three long-standing women’s education clubs still in existence in Stillwater. The Primrose Club was founded in 1893, and the Stillwater Reading Club was founded in 1886. “In Primrose, you did a paper every year,” Leys said. “In Study Club, you did a topic every other year.”

The list of Friday Study Club’s 38 charter members reads like a who’s who of early Stillwater. Among those who signed: Mrs. Ned Easton; Mrs. Joseph Simonet; Marguerite Murphy; Mrs. J.R. Kolliner; Mrs. S.P. McKusick; Mrs. D. Kalinoff and Mrs. Reuben Thoreen.

A framed copy of the charter of the Stillwater branch of the Delphian Society, the precursor to the Friday Study Club, was on display during a club meeting on Oct. 12, 2023, in the Margaret Rivers Room at the Stillwater Public Library. (Mary Divine / Pioneer Press)

Formed in Chicago in 1910, the Delphian Society was “a combination of book club and correspondence course involving a condensed library and encyclopedia,” said club member Diane Dahl, who researched the club’s history for a presentation in September.

The Delphian Society was said to be “deliberately non-scholarly, with the members encouraged to speak briefly from personal knowledge they had gained, rather than from notes or outlines,” according to Dahl’s report. “The organization kept in regular touch, giving instructions on how to conduct meetings, and asking for progress reports.”

For the first six years of the club’s existence, club members discussed topics on a theme selected by the Delphian Society. Dues were $2.50 a year.

The women, who ranged in age from 25 to 30, originally met at 2 p.m. “because back then, the husbands came home for lunch,” Leys said. The start time was later changed to 1 p.m., she said.

Membership was capped at 30 because that was the maximum number of women who could fit comfortably in a house.

“One of the written histories of the club said, ‘They were seeking more to life than cleaning and child rearing,’” Dahl said. “But also they clearly adjusted their meeting times to accommodate family responsibilities. Attendance was crucial, and many had perfect attendance.”

The club’s minutes from 1927 — the earliest year found in the club’s archives — detail the members’ numerous activities. Among the recorded tasks: distributed book lists for supplemental readings; read communication from the head office; planned a holiday party for the female teachers; judged the Stillwater High School Oratorical Society competition; went to a series of talks in St. Paul on the development of the drama; housed and fed boys attending the YMCA conference at the high school; sponsored two girls at Girl Scout camp; and purchased a sign for the corner of Owen and Olive streets.

In 1930, the Stillwater club members decided to discontinue using the curricula from the Delphian Society and do their own research and presentations, Dahl said.

Club member Ethel Kolliner was instrumental in re-energizing the club — dubbed the Friday Study Club — and landing on a course of study, according to Dahl’s research. Kolliner worked in the dean’s office at the University of Minnesota and consulted with colleagues on study topics, she said.

Early themes of the Friday Study Club ranged from “The German Mind” to “U.S. States” to “English Literature: Pope to Burns.”

Club members often went to lectures, musical events, museums and talks about history in Stillwater and St. Paul, Dahl said.

Each year, the Friday Study Club took on a different cause to support the Stillwater community, including children in need, schools, the library and the hospital. In 1946, members “adopted a 7-year-old Italian boy through the Foster Parents Plan for War Children,” according to a “Backward Glance” column written by Anita Buck and published in the Stillwater Gazette. “The boy was born in Sicily and was tiny when war engulfed his world. Living at the Caltagirone Colony in Sicily, the child would receive the best of food and care with the help of his Stillwater sponsors.”

Members helped start the children’s story hour at the Stillwater Public Library and contributed to the Art Colony, Senior Citizens, Youth Commission, the Community Chest, the Historical Society and Lakeview Hospital Auxiliary.

They raised funds by holding a bake sale, sponsoring the Stillwater House Tour and a tea, and selling stationery, said Dickinson, who drew the sketches of the houses and the Washington County Historic Courthouse included on the tour brochures and stationery.

“I was in college, and I got a phone call from my mother,” Dickinson said. “I was an art history major, but she said, ‘You can draw some pictures of those houses, can’t you?’ So I drew the pictures of the houses, and they put that out.”

100 years of Friday Study Club

This year’s theme is “100 years of Friday Study Club,” Cox said, a precursor to the club’s centennial picnic in June.

“There used to be a huge emphasis on philanthropy and community service, so we are trying to increase that this year,” said Cox, who joined the club in 2019. “We are volunteering at Valley Outreach and in other ways.”

Dahl, who rejoined the club eight years ago, said that in addition to the opportunity to further her education on different topics, she loves the social aspects of the club and the friendships she’s made.

“I’ve gotten to meet people that I wouldn’t have otherwise necessarily met and have great conversations,” she said.

In 2019, Dahl researched the Nobel Prize in physics.

“I learned that there is new research coming out all the time about the origin of the universe,” she said. “I’m still learning about that. You never know what you’re going to get until the topic is announced for the year, so it’s a great excitement to see what you’re going to be learning about.”

Next year’s topic won’t be revealed until the picnic in June. The club’s program committee is charged with choosing the theme, Cox said.

“They can be really light, or they can be deep and life-changing,” Cox said. “It’s a mix of women from different professions, different ages, and all of them are devoted to learning.”

When charter member Alice LaVine resigned from the club in 1975, she wrote a heartfelt letter that is included in the club’s archives. Dahl closed her presentation on Sept. 14 by reading it aloud.

“The time has come for me to announce my finale as a Friday Study Club member,” LaVine wrote. “I do not wish to say ‘resignation’ as in my heart and mind I will always be with you. We cannot terminate the friendships, philosophies, personal memories and education received in studying and playing together for half a century. Among you are some of my favorite people with whom I have a long friendship, and also many newer and younger friends. All of you have given something to me in the very richness of your varying personalities and keeping me in touch and alert to the movements of the day. I regret that during the latter years I’ve been able to contribute so little. This is not a formal letter. To you I could not write one. With wishes for your future in a heart full of love to every one of you. Sincerely, Alice LaVine.”

Friday Study Club meeting

The Friday Study Club’s next meeting will be at 1 p.m. Nov. 9 at Family Means, 1875 Northwestern Ave., Stillwater.

Brent Peterson, executive director of the Washington County Historical Society, will be the guest speaker. The title of his talk is: “Myths and Legends of Stillwater.”

New members are welcome. For more information or to RSVP, contact Becci Dawson Cox at

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