Support quality local journalism. Become a subscriber.

Didn't get a chance to finish your story? Purchase a day pass digital subscription and you'll receive unlimited online access for one day (24 hours). You will have immediate access upon completion of your purchase.

On April 25th, nearly 34 members of the Red Hat Society in Northeast Iowa gathered for their 20th Anniversary at Bill’s Pizza and Steakhouse in Independence. The planners for the event were Sheryl Stanford, Mary Conrad and Dee Roman. There were four Iowa groups that were able to make it to the anniversary. Four of the queens for the society were able to be at the 20th Anniversary at Bill’s. Those four queens were Linda Nelson from the Rowdy Red Hatters, Bette Butler from the Wapsie Crimson Red Hatters, Mary Conrad from the Red Hat Hatters and Dee Roman from the Feathered Red Hatters from Northeast Iowa. Members of each group do not all live in the same town. For example, the “Feathered Red Hatters from Northeast Iowa” are from multiple locations: Springville, Quasqueton, Independence, Marion and Cedar Rapids.

For lunch at the 20th anniversary party, they had a variety of soups and meats to choose from in buffet form at Bill’s Pizza and Steakhouse.

After lunch and conversation, the Red ladies then passed out the cake and started to share what being in this society really means to them and how it has benefited their lives. Lauren Waskow of Independence of the Feathered Red Hatters of Northeast Iowa, says, “This society is more than just a social thing to me. Meeting these people every month really helps develop great friendships.” Dee Roman, queen of the Red Hat Society shares, “The friendships that our group has had over the years is the best part about this society. Over the years we have gone to many conventions as a group,” said Roman. While at those conventions they had won first place one year for being the “best group” of the year. “The best thing is, we started the group and now we are all great friends, but the absolute best thing is, these sisters are here to listen to you, at all times,” said Roman. Another member, Linda Nelson, a queen of the Red Hat Society, shared that she had no idea what she was doing, but all groups were full at the time in Independence. So that is when Nelson decided that she was going to start her own group. With Dee Roman’s group being at such a large number of 26 women, she shares it’s hard to get reservations for everyone to go out to lunch or dinner in the same room. Mary Conrad shared that life is too short and you must enjoy it. To close out the night, Roman asked the group of about 55 women if they would be interested in doing an anniversary luncheon every year, and the crowd nodded their heads in agreeance. Dixie Bagby shared her thoughts about being in the society. “All these people I didn’t know and then we all got together,” said Bagby, “We all became members then friends then Red Hat sisters. They really are a great group of girls through the good and bad times. Some of the sisters have moved away, but we still keep in contact with them. If someone is going through a life struggle or problem, someone is always there for them. We also do some volunteering with going on mission trips, donating money and gathering items for people in need.”

Dee Roman has been a member of the Red Hat Society for 14 years. When she turned 60, her sister threw her a party and the theme was “When I Am Old I Will Wear Purple”. The party was so much fun they then decided to join the RHS and that is how her group became. The group of sisters have done many things together: going to Chicago to meet the Exhaulted Queen, yearly state convention attracting many women all over the state held in Cedar Rapids, traveled to other states: Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois for conventions. “We look forward to those good times. We’ve become truly good friends over the years and have been there for the happy celebrations in each other’s lives plus the sad times like the loss of two of our members and other family members. We hope to have many more years together,” said Queen Dee Roman.

Many don’t know what being a part of the Red Hat Society is, so a little history is to follow. An artist named Sue Ellen Cooper from Fullerton, California, was traveling to Tucson, Arizona in the fall of 1997 when she purchased an old red fedora for $7.50 at a thrift shop. One of her good friends was nearing her 55th birthday and she decided she was going to gift something in a playful manner. The purchase of the fedora was inspired by a well-known Jenny Joseph poem titled “Warning”. The poem begins, “When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple, with a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.” The reason behind being inspired by this poem and purchasing the fedora was to remind and encourage her friend to grow older but in a playful manner. She then gave her friend for her birthday a red hat to remind her of these things.

Throughout Cooper’s life the symbolism of the red hats has affected many women. By wearing these Red Hats, women around the world started a new women’s movement that effected many women that Cooper encountered. This movement embraced a new outlook on life: friendship and fulfilling lifelong dreams. Following the year of 1997’s birthday gift to a dear friend, Cooper started to repeat the gift giving every year. In following years these gift givings were held annually by a tea party; the first year was held on April 25, 1998. This is the date that the official Red Hat Society began, which is celebrated annually with gifts and friendships and even lifelong goals.

To make the organization public, it started off with word of mouth. Following that they received their first national publicity in the magazine Romantic Homes in 2000. They also received publicity by having a feature of the organization in the Orange County Register. Since the first year of the society’s beginning, The Red Hat Society membership increased through word of mouth, growing from two chapters in 1999 to over 70,000 today.

Cooper established a “Hatquarters” to help start chapters around the States. There were many e-mail requests to help start those chapters. Cooper now serves as the “Exalted Queen Mother”, along with writing two best-selling books relating to the Red Hats Society. The books are titled: The Red Hat Society: Friendship and Fun After Fifty which was published in 2004 and The Red Hat Society’s Laugh Lines: Stories of Inspiration and Hattitude, published in April of 2005.

Not only is the Red Hat Society in the United States, but it has spread to other countries. In 2011, there were thousands of chapters in the US, but there were also local chapters in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Canada, Ecuador, England, Finland, Germany, Guam, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxemburg, Mexico, Namibia, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Peru, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, Taiwan, Trinidad, Tobago and Wales.

The Red Hat Society has really meant a lot to these women and has changed the way they live their lives now. Mayor Bonita Davis shared about her thoughts with the society. “Before I joined, I only knew one or two of the girls, Those members who can meet every Thursday for breakfast at different locations, sometimes in other towns. We take turns in planning a monthly activity and do all kinds of crazy things. We have some snow bird members so usually we have Christmas in October. We laugh a lot, support each other and celebrate with each other and just have fun. We did a Rowdy Red Hat’s calendar a few years ago, listing everyone’s birthday. We have never gone to a state or national conference and would rather go to a winery, out to eat and at a new business, or to a concert and play. We are sisters,” shared Mayor Davis.