West Chester AARP group savors its history 30 and counting

Posted: June 01, 2003

WEST CHESTER — "It's just a nice way to meet people," said Mildred Pyle, 85, about the West Chester chapter of the AARP.

The chapter celebrated its 30th anniversary at its May meeting, complete with a white frosted birthday cake and a table full of chapter memorabilia.

Pyle, who lives in West Chester, has been a member for about 20 years and serves as membership chairwoman. The chapter has 306 members, hailing from Downingtown, Exton and Kennett Square as well as West Chester, but she estimated that only 100 to 125 of them are active.

Pyle said the group always had more women than men, although "we've been getting more men recently."

At the meeting, Betsy Fitzgerald, 81, of West Chester, discussed the history of the chapter, chartered in October 1973. The founders started the group for a simple reason: "They thought retired people needed to get together," she said. The chapter is one of seven in Chester County.

Fitzgerald told stories of a memorable bee-plagued picnic - "I brought a friend to that picnic, and she never came back" - and how in one of their meeting places, members practically had to climb over one another to get to their seats.

In 1995, the chapter was named state chapter of the year.

"We were on the map that year," she said.

For the anniversary celebration at the Elks Club at Wayne and Washington Streets, where the chapter has met since 1995, members brought all sorts of chapter memorabilia: proclamations on the group's formation, newspaper articles about charitable efforts, and old typewritten minutes.

Albums of photos showed the members on trips, one of the most popular activities that the chapter sponsors. Members go on day trips to local destinations or Atlantic City, overnight trips, and "mystery trips," where the travelers do not know where they are going until they board the bus.

Jeanne Jagers, 76, of Downingtown, is the travel chairwoman. At the meeting, she reminisced about the numerous trips - some to Europe - that the group had taken over the years.

"It's a great history," she said. "Let's continue to make more."

Betty Walker, 79, of Westtown, is president of the chapter this year. She joined after a friend told her about it: "I think that's how most people hear about it, by word of mouth."

Betty Macauley, 80, of Exton, was president from 1991 to 1993. She said that her most important contribution to the group was transferring the group's archives, which filled several boxes, to the Chester County Historical Society.

Her motivation was a practical one.

"I live in an apartment," she said, "and there just wasn't room to store everything there. I couldn't use my dining-room table."

Pyle, who edited the group's newsletter for more than 15 years, said that she encouraged members to become active in running the group.

"You get more out of something if you work at it," she said.

What is the group's key to success?

"Congeniality. I think that's what keeps us going," Pyle said.

Note

The research center at the American Helicopter Museum in West Chester has been named in honor of Renzo Pierpaoli, founder of Helicopter Support Inc. in Orange, Conn. His daughters donated $250,000 to help the museum preserve the history of the industry.

Send Milestones news to suburban staff writer Wendy Walker, The Inquirer, 120 N. High St., West Chester, Pa. 19380; e-mail it to PAmilestones@phillynews.com; or fax to 610-701-7630. Contact Wendy Walker at 610-701-7651 or wwalker@phillynews.com.

The West Chester chapter of the AARP meets at

2 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month at the Elks Club, Wayne and Washington Streets, West Chester. New members are welcome. The chapter also sponsors a support group for widowed people that meets monthly.

Chapter dues are $8 per year, and members must also be members of the national AARP ($20 per year). For more information, call Helen Cumley at 610-455-0250.

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