The Queen Esther chapter of Eastern Star has been quietly active in south Washington County for 100 years.
Known for its huge holiday cookie sales and salad luncheon fundraisers, the chapter also supports academic scholarships, donations to the Friends in Need Food Shelf and cancer research, and holds annual blood drives.
In coordination with Newport Masonic Lodge 118, chapter members help with a Day with Santa for area children, participate in all Masonic activities and support Masonic charities such as the Minnesota Masonic Homes, the Masonic Memorial Cancer Hospital at the University of Minnesota, and the Scottish Rite Childhood Language Disorders clinics.
The Queen Esther chapter, first organized on April 19, 1889, then reorganized on March 26, 1916, has a membership list that has included many of the well-known longtime farm families in south Washington County. In early May, the Queen Esther chapter merged with the Electa chapter in Hastings, bringing membership to more than 120.
To celebrate its 100th anniversary the chapter held an open house last Sunday, at the Masonic Center, Summit and Broadway avenues, in St. Paul Park. Local dignitaries and chapter leaders were introduced at the brief program followed by the Red Hat Singers. The public was invited to attend.
"It's a family thing," said Kathy Trout, the chapter's assistant matron, formerly of Cottage Grove now living in Hastings. Her parents were very active and she and her husband, Russ, have been members for more than 50 years. Russ Trout is the chapter's worthy patron this year.
In conjunction with the chapter, the couple raised $55,000 for cancer research in 1994.
"We sold note cards and pins, accepted donations and held a cancer dance," Kathy Trout recalled. "It took us a year and was one of the best things we've ever done."
The Order of Eastern Star is the largest fraternal organization worldwide that includes women and men. It is not a secret, political or religious organization.
"We only ask that you believe in a Supreme Being," Kathy Trout said. "We have members from all religions."
To join Eastern Star, applicants must have a family member who is a Mason, or they must be referred by a Mason, Trout said.
In 1889, the first Queen Esther chapter had 14 members. In 1916, when it was reorganized, the chapter had 43 members and grew to its peak in 1966 with 209 members. Early activities combined social events with fundraisers such as lawn parties. The first in 1916 was called a silver social with entertainment furnished by a member who played selections on his Victrola. Members also met for basket socials, pie socials, holiday dances, monthly luncheons, card parties and mystery trips to visit other chapters. Fundraisers included a watch-a-quarter grow project, antique auctions, smorgasbords and turkey dinners. Dues, in 1916, were $2; today they are $30 annually.
Jean Kulvich, 90, a lifetime resident of Grey Cloud Island Township and this year's worthy matron, joined the chapter with her husband 55 years ago. At one time, three generations of their family were active members.
"I stayed in for the people," Kulvich said recently. "We support the schools, the Shriner's Hospital and the senior graduation parties among many other activities."
Each worthy matron decides where donations will go and this year Kulvich has selected the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, because members of her family and those of other chapter members are battling the chronic disease.
"We really enjoy meeting people through Eastern Star," Kathy Trout said. "We have traveled all over the country visiting different chapter meetings and made wonderful friends that we would never have met without Eastern Star. We still keep in touch with many of them.
"In 2006 the triennial worldwide convention was held in Minneapolis and we met people from many countries," she said. "They all just believe in doing good things for people."