From Service League to Junior League: The 1960s

It was a sunny, fall afternoon when I arrived at Mrs. Betty Clark’s (Service League President, 1967-68) home in Dover Shores for our 1960s Past President’s meeting. I was greeted by Mrs. Margie Jager (Service League President, 1968-69) at the door and escorted into the front room where we chatted over iced tea & cookies. Both Margie and Betty were kind enough to help our Historian Committee document the history of the Newport Harbor Service League in the late 1960s and transition to the Junior League of Orange County in 1971.

Margie and Betty joined the Newport Harbor Service League in the year 1960, back in the days when Newport Beach was a little beach town. The League was started in 1956 by 44 members of other Junior Leagues who all moved to Newport Beach. At the time, Newport was a small beach community – South Coast Plaza and Westcliff areas were both lima bean fields and the Irvine area was cattle ranch land. Things were quite different at that time! Balboa Island and Lido Island had little houses that families from Pasadena and LA would move to and buy beach homes for the summer. Some of the women that moved down to Newport were in other Leagues and they decided there was enough potential in the community to start a Newport Beach Junior League. And many of these women stayed in the Newport Beach League until the Junior League was established and then later transferred back to their original Leagues. So, this is where it all began.

As the first step to establishing a League, the women contacted the national Junior League to find out what was required to become a League. Margie and Betty explained that in order to begin their own League, a sufficient number of members was required in the community, a large enough area to sustain a League in the city and some ideas for projects in the Service League were necessary. This transition was a four year process – including 4 scheduled visits by national Junior League members. Betty explained that in preparation for these 4 visits, the Service League members practiced board meetings and a general meeting – so that the Junior League members did not think these women of Newport Beach were ‘country bumpkins.’ These visits included fancy parties at the Newport Harbor Yacht Club and one party they recall inviting the whole board to a beautiful home in Shore Cliffs overlooking the harbor and ocean, in hopes to impress the visitation committee with their parties and connections in the community.

The final inspection was quite nerve racking, as the ladies wanted to make sure everything was perfect for the visitation committee from the National Association (referred to as the Association of Junior Leagues International or AJLI), which included a woman named Mary White. Mary was the head of the AJLA (Association of Junior Leagues of America) and she told Margie and Betty after one of their meetings: ‘you girls aren’t thinking big enough.’ This was a powerful statement, as Mary was the woman that made the final decision if they became a Junior League or not.

Margie and Betty recall the first project of the Newport Harbor Service League was called the Volunteer Bureau (which later became OneOC). This was established to coordinate all of the volunteer groups in the surrounding area and they ran the Volunteer Bureau for ten years. The Service League also had to host a fundraiser, which was the ‘Philharmonic,’ included a fashion show, and was co-sponsored with the Philharmonic Society. The Service League’s year long fundraiser was called the “Coffee Garden,” which was a Danish gift shop at the Sherman Gardens. The Coffee Garden is how the League made their money throughout the year. Margie and Betty explained that everyone from the League worked at the Coffee Garden, as it was open everyday of the year other than Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Easter. The ladies shared that each volunteer wore a smock, with pockets that included a small decoration. Depending how ‘clever you were with a needle,’ your pocket might be more intricate. The women would all waitress, cook in the kitchen and sell pastries – that one volunteer would drive to Tustin to pick up every morning ‘rain or shine.’ Betty even remembers her husband saying one year, ‘Do you really have to go to the Coffee Garden today?’ as she left to work a shift at the Coffee Garden the day after Christmas. These women were very committed to their year-long fundraiser! Margie and Betty both have fond memories of their time at the Coffee Garden, as this is how they met their best friends in the League and worked together for a common cause.

Back during the late 1960s, the structure of the Service League was quite different. Membership was by invitation only and women could not be younger than 20 years old or older than 32 years old to join the League. Betty said it was a very secretive and exclusive process to be invited to join. Once invited, each woman had to submit a letter of proposal and two “seconds” to the admissions committee for review. Once admitted into the League, there was a provisional period that was completed by each member.

Both Margie and Betty joined the Service League in the year 1960. They knew each other from the Newport Harbor Yacht Club, where their husbands sailed together. Betty remembers missing their provisional graduation in 1960 because she was at Hoag having a baby. Everything these ladies did as presidents of the Service League was in preparation of becoming a Junior League – this was their sole focus. By age 40, it was required that the women in the League become ‘sustainers.’ However, it sounded like by that time – Margie and Betty were happy to take a break from all their hard work in the League and being presidents during the transition from Service League to Junior League.

As we concluded our conversation, Betty added that December 7, 2016 is the last Service League reunion at the Newport Harbor Yacht Club. Both Betty and Margie plan to attend, as this will be their last reunion since the yacht club will be torn down next year. There are currently 54 women that are from the original Newport Harbor Service League in the local area. It’s wonderful that these ladies still gather together for yearly reunions – friendships dating back to the 1960s. Both Margie and Betty have great memories from their days in the Service and Junior League. Their memories serve as wonderful pieces of history for the Junior League of Orange County. Thanks to these ladies and their fellow members’ hard work & dedication to serving their community, the Junior League of Orange County was established in 1971.

(Lauren Frum, JLOCC Historian Committee, 2016-2017)

Categories: Our History

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