As the Milldames gathered for lunch, their connections were clear. A recent widow was surrounded by others, asking after her. Others gathered at the tables, taking into account who needed to remain seated and who was more mobile.
One woman made sure to organize a meal, a centerpiece and a box of truffles for another who had to cancel at the last minute.
The club began 55 years ago with 10 members, said Carol Harney, the first and now current president. It was an outgrowth of the Concord Newcomers’ Club.
During the 1960s, women with children did not work, one woman explained. The college graduates came to town with their families when their husbands took new jobs in the area. As the children grew, women might or might not join the workforce.
The Newcomers’ Club provided a chance to get to know their peers. The only problem was the club had a two-year membership limit. The women wanted to continue being part of a group.
The Milldames were born. “Now, we wanted to serve the community,” Harney said of the members of the club named after The Milldam, a downtown area built over a former dam.
For the group of young mothers, building connections was as important as community service. However, flexibility was key, so they innovated.
In 1968, the Milldames invited local organizations to a fair held at the First Parish Church where members could sign up on lists to volunteer at different places. The club has no church affiliation.
The groups kept the list, working down the names when they needed help. Maybe a Milldame could help for an hour, maybe more. Then the organization could tap the next person.
One year, 90 members provided 4,000 hours of volunteer labor to schools, prison outreach, the Red Cross, migrant labor, Emerson Hospital and other places, Haney said during her presentation to about 20 members at the luncheon at the Nashawtuc Country Club. “We’re a versatile lot,” she said.
Many of the women are in their 80s, their ranks thinned by time. Instead of preparing and serving meals at the Council on Aging, they are now served.
They continue to lend their expertise to the greater good: Several women at one table were corporators at Emerson Hospital. The corporators are tasked with letting their communities know what the hospital provides and helping the medical facility identify the best ways to serve the community.
The Milldames provide scholarships each year to two Concord-Carlisle High School seniors who have received special education services and are going on to college. This year, Madeline Maione and Michael Peacy will each receive $1,500 toward their tuition.
The women make their work personal, too, assembling kitchen starter packs for new families.
Through their work and their desire to forge a community, the Milldames created a safe harbor for themselves that carried through their lifetimes, something that was probably not in the forefront over a half century ago.
They know who, or whose husband, can’t climb the stairs. They share stories of how their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are faring.
They know each other’s names.