By Sue Botos
The group of about 40 women gradually assembled in the Community Room of the Don Umerley Civic Center. They greeted each other as longtime friends would, with hugs and questions about the well-being of family as they snacked on cookies and coffee. They chuckled over the irony of Plain Dealer reporter Michael Heaton being the guest speaker on this evening of the Indians’ playoff game.
For these members of the Rocky River Coterie Club, many of the friendships do go back awhile, some almost 40 years to 1973, when 10 women gathered together to form a group with an emphasis on camaraderie and community service.
Nancy Rooney, current Coterie publicity chairperson, was one of those original founders. “We were all in the Junior Women’s Club and just got tired of fundraising,” explained Rooney, who said, at that time, she wanted to contribute but “begged off” the planning phase due to family responsibilities.
“It was just word of mouth and bring a friend,” said Rooney of the beginnings of the Coterie, which means “a gathering of friends” in French. She recalled that during that first meeting at Rockport United Methodist Church on Wooster Road, a trip to Severance Hall was planned. Being a native Westsider, she said she was intrigued with the idea of exploring the eastern part of town.
Rooney added that the group provided a shoulder to lean on after the death of her husband. “We support each other in moments of crisis,” she noted, illustrating with the story of a member who was an avid gardener and became ill.
“Her garden became neglected,so members went over to her house to help,” she recalled.
Mary Vickers, another original member, agreed that while the Coterie started as a social group, it has come to mean more over time. “I’ve stayed all through he years because of the friendship and support,” she stated.
Coterie President Mary Horvath said that the group, with about 72 members, has continued to grow over the years, and that new members are always welcome. “Some members have health problems that prohibit them from coming to meetings. But they still want to receive the newsletters to keep up,” she commented.
She added, however, that due to the age of some members, more activities are now held during the day. “We were more adventuresome in earlier years,” she added, stating that the annual Christmas dance has become a dinner and social.
Age didn’t seem to deter Bev Nieberding, 89, a past president and mother of 13, to whom members refer as the group’s “No. 1 cheerleader.”
“I’m not a native Clevelander, and I’ve enjoyed all of the wonderful friends I have made,” she stated, adding that she was responsible for framing the proclamation the club received from Mayor Pam Bobst in June recognizing its achievements.
In addition to the monthly meetings, held in the Community Room at 7 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month, special interest groups participate in a variety of activities such as card playing and book discussions, with daytime or evening options. At this meeting, a daytime Lolly the Trolley excursion was discussed as well as an Oktoberfest party.
While the emphasis is on socializing, Horvath stated the group also supports local organizations such as the Rocky River Assistance Program and Meals On Wheels, for which a collection was taken during the meeting.
After business was conducted, the group, which this evening included a few husbands, enjoyed Heaton’s talk, entitled “There’s Nothing Like a Dame,” during which he described life with his grandmothers, mother, stepmother, four sisters, three daughters and his wife – a topic definitely related to by this group of friends.