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May 15, 2018 > Red Hatters let the good times roll

Red Hatters let the good times roll

By Johnna M. Laird

Cyndi Lauper released her 1983 breakthrough hit ÒGirls Just Want to Have FunÓ and created an anthem for young females. Her songÕs lyrics could serve as a rallying cry for older females, members of the worldÕs largest social organization for women devoted to having fun.

This year marks Red Hat SocietyÕs (RHS) 20th year with 50,000 members throughout 50 U.S. states and 30 countries. Locally, Alameda County boasts more than 25 RHS chapters. To mark the 20th anniversary, Red Hatters will celebrate with a Roaring Ô20s luncheon and entertainment at Castlewood Country Club in Pleasanton on Saturday, May 19.

ÒWe are not an organization that does charitable work,Ó explains Sandrea Woehl, unapologetically. Woehl heads one of Alameda CountyÕs largest Red Hat chapters. She was key in organizing the council that has hosted a county-wide birthday celebration the last 11 years. ÒOur charitable work is with friendships that are formed, the charity to each other, recognizing that friendships we form are invaluable. They bless our lives and the lives of single, divorced, and any number of women.Ó

Red Hatters distinguish themselves in public wearing red hats, a red feather or red fashion statement in the hair. Women 50 and older pair red hats with purple outfits, known as Red Hat regalia. Red Hatters reverse colors for their birthday month, wearing purple hats and red outfits.

About 200 Red Hatters are expected to attend the May 19 luncheon, most wearing Òglam, glitter and blingÓ as Charleston dancers, bootleggers, and Gatsby thrill-seekers to keep with the flapper era. Even at theme events, attendees can always wear Red Hat regalia.

RHS is Òhat-quartered,Ó as members like to say, in Fullerton, California, where Southern California artist Sue Ellen Cooper gave a red hat to a friend turning 55. Cooper had purchased one for herself earlier in 1997 on impulse from a thrift shop during a trip to Tucson, Arizona. CooperÕs red hat gift was intended to encourage her friend to playfully approach growing older and recognize aging benefits, particularly greater freedom.

Jenny JosephÕs poem ÒWarningÓ inspired CooperÕs gift. In spring 1998 at tea, Cooper and four other women met wearing red hats and purple as the poem suggests: ÒWhen I am an old woman I shall wear purple / With a red hat which doesn't go. . .Ó That gathering created a spark, establishing the red hat as a symbol of fun and friendship and making a statement that maturing women will remain visible.

Emily Yost, Red HatÕs marketing director, says ÒRHS is pro-aging. WeÕre proud to be bold in how we think, play, and lead the boomer generation. . .challenging traditional stereotypes.Ó

A queen heads each Red Hat chapter. A queen can start her own chapter or be elected. Woehl has served as queen of PIPS (Personalities in Purple), based in Fremont, since 2007. She joined RHS 13 years ago in Pleasanton, where her friend was chapter queen. At the time, Woehl lived in Newark. She heard about the fun PIPS were having and joined 12 years ago. The next year, PIPSÕ members recruited her as queen. Red Hatters pay chapter dues to fund events plus a $30 annual fee to headquarters.

Red Hat chapters average 25 to 30 women, although some are as small as seven says Woehl. Large chapters, like PIPS with 125 members, usually meet in interest groups. Events are open to the entire chapter membership. Interest groups span from book clubs, travel clubs, and game nights to morning coffees, lunches, and dinners. There are also movie outings, city tours, and weekends away. Woehl hosts several events herself annually, including Elegance in Black and QueenÕs Mystery Tour for a busload of women who havenÕt a clue where they are going.

Woehl gained leadership skills working as a supervisor at the San Leandro Police Department before she retired. She thinks PIPSÕ Red Hatters keep choosing her as queen because ÒI am fun, and I encourage people to have fun. I like to laugh and have a good time. I enjoy being with the ladies, so I go to many events. I try to support other members, and I go to have a good time.Ó

PIPSÕ Vice Queen Barbara Craven of Newark joined RHS 14 years ago after she saw ladies dressed in Òred hats and great clothesÓ at tea. ÒI knew I wanted to be part of that. I love wearing hats.Ó Enthusiastically, Craven says, Òevery older woman needsÓ RHS. ÒIÕve been married 55 years, I have five grandkids. I love my husband and my grandkids, but I also love my Red Hatters. Red Hat Society hasnÕt made me an old woman; itÕs made me a better woman to my husband and my whole family.Ó

RHS offers older women friendship, often neglected or put on hold as they raised families, managed careers, and cared for ill loved ones. While their focus is fun, they support one another, seeing members through times of loss and hospital stays with encouraging cards and visits.

ÒWeÕre just a group of women over 50 who like to go out and have a good time, wearing red hats,Ó says Woehl, Òbut we also call ourselves a sisterhood.Ó

Red Hatters accept new members in May. Membership is required to attend the luncheon. Contact RHS at or 1-866-386-2850.

Roaring Ô20s Luncheon
Saturday, May 19
10:30 a.m.: Registration
12 p.m.: Plated luncheon
Castlewood Country Club
707 Country Club Way, Pleasanton
Cost: $55

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