In the early 1950s, a woman named Anne Wakeman began throwing around the idea of starting a Springfield Junior League chapter — a civic organization for women who are committed to promoting volunteerism, training and empowering women to be leaders and improving their community.
But, at the time, no one seemed to know how to get the ball rolling. Then a lady named Suzanne Tynes moved here from Dallas, Texas, where she had been a member of a Junior League.
Those two women — along with Patty Brooks, Cynthia Hollander and Jan Horton — launched what was then called the Community Service League in 1959. It started with 31 members plus the five founders.
This history was recounted by some of the organization’s surviving co-founders in a video several years ago. All but one of those five founders have since died.
In that video, Hollander recalled the organization’s “modest beginning” — a fruitcake sale.
Hollander is the lone surviving co-founder of the Junior League of Springfield.
To honor the five founding women, the Junior League of Springfield has started a Founders Fund which will provide a source of revenue for League projects and/or scholarships for perpetuity.
The fund was announced Tuesday evening at the Junior League’s annual meeting.
“They had a vision. These were visionary women,” said Morey Mechlin, who’s been a member of the league for more than 30 years. “We want to remember them in a way we thought they would think was meaningful.
“We started a fund to honor them, to honor their vision and to assure that it continues,” Mechlin continued. “The point (of Junior League) is to have community impact and learn by doing. It is about training and empowering women and investing in the community. And we just wanted to make sure that would go on for as long as possible.”
To learn more about the Junior League of Springfield or how to join, visit jlspringfield.org.
What does the Junior League do?
Members do fundraising projects and commit to volunteering at a variety of nonprofit organizations throughout the community. The league’s 2022 list of community projects includes volunteering and/or supporting Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Boys and Girls Club, Child Advocacy Center, Diaper Bank of the Ozarks, Empower Abilities, I Pour Life, Laura’s Home, OTC Middle College and the Rebound Foundation.
Over the years, Junior League of Springfield members have been responsible for creating nonprofit organizations that continue to serve the community today. Examples of this include The Discovery Center and Isabel’s House (a crisis nursery). Members were responsible for the start of Ozarks Public Television and also for combining the Boys Club and the Girls Club to make the Boys and Girls Club.
Rob Blevins, executive director of The Discovery Center, said the nonprofit science and learning museum “would not exist without the thought and foresight” of the Junior League of Springfield.
“Today, the Discovery Center of Springfield is regarded as one of the top science centers and children’s museums in the country, but there would not even be a Discovery Center if not for the Junior League of Springfield,” Blevins said in a statement. “These innovators saw what our community would need and then willed it into a reality by pouring their time and money into establishing this vital community asset that now inspires hundreds of thousands of children and adults each year through hands-on programs taught in 3 countries, over 30 states, and over 30 counties in Missouri. None of this would be possible if not for the tenacity and heart of these community leaders.”
Currently more than 500 women belong to the Junior League of Springfield. Many of the women are active members, meaning they are serving as volunteers for a variety of nonprofit organizations, as well as fundraising to support different causes.
Others are what’s called sustainers, meaning they are no longer actively involved in volunteering and fundraising projects, but they continue to support the League with their annual dues.
Members learn to be leaders
According to Mechlin, members of the Junior League are given opportunities to “learn by doing.”
“They were learning about the community. They were learning how to raise money,” she said. “They were learning how to run a board, how to run committees.
“And truly to this day, if your board has a Junior League-trained individual, they know what boards are supposed to do,” Mechlin said. “They know about parliamentary procedure. They know about strategic planning.”
Crista Hogan, attorney and executive director of the Springfield Metropolitan Bar Association, is a longtime member and served as Junior League president in 1999.
Hogan echoed Mechlin’s sentiment.
“Honestly, I was a bit of a snob coming in because it’s like — what skills would you like to learn? Well, I’ve graduated from law school. I was like, ‘I think I’ve got this,’” Hogan said. “But I will tell you, when I applied for my job at the Bar 10 years later, it was not law school that prepared me for that. It was Junior League.
“I had all the skills I needed to work with a membership organization with nearly 1,000 people,” Hogan said. “I learned all the soft skills and organizational stuff from Junior League.”
Hogan said her mother had been very active in the League. Hogan joined when she was in her 20s because she “felt like it was my turn.”
“I really didn’t have any huge expectations of it being a super important part of my life,” she said. “But it became a super important part of my life.
“Had it not been for my friends in Junior League, my life would be pretty empty, frankly,” Hogan added. “They are my village.”
Junior League training ‘top notch’
Mary Kromrey, executive director of Ozark Greenways, is also a member of the Junior League of Springfield. Kromrey moved to Springfield to finish grad school in 2001 and joined the Junior League in 2006.
“It’s been incredibly rewarding,” Kromrey said. “Not being from here, this was a way for me to really connect with a lot of different women of all ages, which I really enjoyed and just found delightful. It provided me with an opportunity to just make a lot of connections.”
Kromrey described the training she received as a member as “top notch” and said it has benefited her career in the nonprofit sector.
“Not only just learning how to efficiently and effectively run a meeting,” she said, “but learning how to do it well and execute them well and how that could build trust when you’re bringing people together for committee work and board work.”
Public speaking and fundraising are other skills Kromrey said she picked up as a Junior League member.
But perhaps most important to Kromrey has been the opportunity to be around inspiring women such as Morey Mechlin and the late Jan Horton.
“You have the opportunity to be amongst … giants that support you,” Kromrey said. “You get to, like, stand on their shoulders because they’re so supportive.”