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Thayer OWLS disband, give funds to Thayer Senior Center

Monday, February 6, 2012

Fun and Friends Senior Center Director Sheila Smith, far left, accepts $521 from former Older Wiser Livelier Seniors members, from left, Jessie Mae Burkhead, Dorothy Manker, Imogene Peace, Rosemary Mainprize and Ruth Forrester. The 23-year-old OWLS group disbanded this month, giving its final club balance to the senior center. [Order this photo]
A benevolent group that formed in Thayer more than 20 years ago disbanded last week, turning over its funds to Thayer Fun and Friends Senior Center.

The Older Wiser Livelier Seniors (OWLS) organized in March 1988 with 15 charter members, including current president Dorothy Manker, 97. The group was made up of former garment factory workers, once among Thayer's largest employee group. Manker was a sewing machine operator.

"It was a good place to work," Jessie Mae Burkhead said. "We were making the same money they made in the city."

Rosemary Mainprize, who worked in the marking and cutting room at Puritan Fashions, said the company employed 385 workers when she started there in 1966, four years after Burkhead started.

The building, located on Sixth Street, was used by several garment makers through the years, including Bernard's and lastly, Lee's Curtains. Tucker Auction Company now uses the building for storage.

Burkhead said Lee's Curtains paid its workers good wages in the 1960s, enough to put her son through college. The company sometimes even paid its employees in silver dollars, she said.

When the garment factory closed, displaced by inexpensive clothing made overseas, the OWLS formed to keep alive their unity from the factory. The group met once per month, first in the basement of the Pentecostal Church, the same site used by Fun and Friends. Later, meetings were held at Country Cottage Restaurant.

"We waxed and waned through the years, but we had speakers at our meetings and had a good group," Manker said. Continuing to attend has become difficult, however, as members got older, she said.

The OWLS held its final meeting in January, and voted to give the remaining $521 in its account to the center.

"We appreciate it," Fun and Friends director Sheila Smith said Wednesday, Jan. 24, adding that $521 will go a long way at the center. "That's a month of the salad bar or two weeks of home-delivered meals."

Manker said the OWLS disbanding will not affect the annual garment factory workers' banquet, which is held each November.

OWLS charter members are: Jeroline Simpson, Frieda Sisco, Euna Crawford, Flora Schaufler, Opal Boze, Dorothy Manker, Doris Hall, Rita Burr, Elsie Brown, Nora Everett, Waltie Riley, Jessie Mae Burkhead, Betty Blankenship, Mozelle Blevins and Carolee Barton. Other longtime members included Carrie Haney, Evelyn Turner, Ruby Mathis, Thelma Hoyt, Audrey Tyree and Jettie Hackworth.

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