Their name has changed three times through the years, but members say by any name, the friendship and fellowship offered by their group has remained the same.

Last week, members of the Stratford branch of what is now known as Rural Women New Zealand met up to share lunch and memories as they celebrated the group's 90th birthday.

In 1927, when a group of ladies held a meeting of what was to become the Stratford branch, the group was called the Women's Division of Farmers' Union, and later on became known as Women's Division Federated Farmers before their current identity of Rural Women New Zealand.

Joined by representatives of other branches in Taranaki,members celebrated in style with a luncheon, speeches and plenty of laughter throughout the afternoon. Members were also treated to a performance by Dorothy Kirby and June Schneller who presented two short skits which both had the audience in fits of laughter.

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Individual members of the group were called upon to light a candle each. Each of the nine candles represented one of the last nine decades.
Individual members of the group were called upon to light a candle each. Each of the nine candles represented one of the last nine decades.

Current president Patricia (Trish) Houghton called upon individual members of the Stratford branch to light nine candles, representing the nine decades of the group.

Nine candles, representing the nine decades of the group, burned brightly.
Nine candles, representing the nine decades of the group, burned brightly.

Trish and Lorraine Cooper, the group's secretary, were also surprised by the rest of the group who had arranged for both to be presented with a Branch Honour Bar, reflecting their service to the group.

Dorothy Kirby read out a brief history of the group, a task she also performed at the group's 80th birthday celebration. Dorothy said the first president was Mrs M Phillips and the branch grew quickly, boasting 130 members from 21 different districts in Central Taranaki by 1929.

A cake was cut as part of the celebration
A cake was cut as part of the celebration

Over the next few years the members held shop days, socials, garden parties and dances as well as organising a relief scheme which had members sewing garments for new babies. While many things have changed, new babies in the Stratford District still wear clothes made for them by the ladies of the Stratford branch today.

While membership has declined somewhat over the years, the group still does what they can to help the wider community, Dorothy said.

"We knit beanies and booties for Pregnancy Help when needed and we contributed a large grocery box to help people affected by the floods in Eastern Taranaki."

She added, "As most of us are quite old we cannot be as active as we were, but we still enjoy getting together in friendship, and intend continuing to do so as long as possible."

If you would like to find out more about the group or to join, please contact Trish Houghton on 06 765 5507 for details.

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