The Gem Country Women’s Club was formed and chartered in 1997 by twelve motivated, energetic and dedicated Republican women who joined forces to bring about change in the politics of Macon County. Charter members were: Kathy Alley, Shirley Cross, Genia Edmonds, Delores Ernst, Sylvia Helzel, Barbara McRae, Lucy Peters, Wilma Rogers, Joyce Smith, Marilyn Sprague-Smith, Nancy Taro and Pat Tippett.
Pat Tippett was elected president. Goals were set to promote an informed public through political and educational activities, to increase effectiveness of women in the cause of good government, to change the county from a democratic majority to a republican majority and to support GOP campaign activities, both financially and with a volunteer workforce.
Members helped organize the 4th of July flag raising ceremonies, held fundraisers, participated in craft festivals, made over 50 paper twist angels that were presented to the residents of two nursing homes and sponsored a coat and toy drive for the needy families of Macon County.
Marilyn Sprague-Smith was appointed the NCFRW Mountain Region Area Representative and Kathy Alley was elected secretary of the Macon County Republican Party. Delores Ernst and Nancy Taro received Women of the Year plaques from the club.
At the end of the first year, the club received the NCFRW Caring for America Award for sponsoring an American Red Cross Blood Drive in honor of Elizabeth Dole. Our theme was “Sparkle Like a Gem – Give the Gift of Life.” Hence, the nickname, the “Gems” began. That same year the club also received the Lighthouse Award, a top state award, and was selected as one of N.C.’s Points of Light. At the NFRW convention in New Orleans, the club received national recognition by receiving the Silver Achievement Award for points earned, which was virtually unheard of for a newly formed club.
In 1998, during the presidency of Delores Ernst, the club sponsored successful blood drives; collected clothes, coats and toys for the annual Christmas Give-a-Way; held fundraisers and was able to assist candidates’ election campaigns; and presented the Macon County Historical Society with a 49”x 36” replica of an early mountain log cabin complete with handmade furniture.
In 1999, Pat Tippet was elected president and was also appointed the NCFRW Mountain Region Area Representative. Roberta Swank was appointed to the NCFRW Board, and was locally named Chair of Vision 2025 for Macon County. Also the same year, Lucy Peters, chaplain and charter member, passed away. In her memory, the club placed an engraved brick to honor her in Memory Lane at the Historical Society. Also in 1999, the club was honored for community service at the Biennial NCFRW Tribute-to-Women and received the Gold Achievement Award from NFRW.
Roberta Swank was elected president for 2000-2001, and during this time the annual Christmas Give-a-Way became so large, it was moved to the American Legion Building. Items given away included clothes, coats, toys, household items, electronics, and furniture. The club helped sponsor six Franklin High School students to attend the 31st annual N.C. Youth Legislative Assembly in Raleigh. The NCFRW awarded our club as the Most Community-Oriented Club in the Mountain Region. Community outreach was expanded by collecting food, clothing, toys and shoes for a needy family at Easter and Thanksgiving. Also, books were presented to the library and afghans to the nursing home. Charter member Shirley Cross passed away and was honored by placing a memorial brick at the Historical Society. The club received the Diamond Award at the Biennial NFRW convention. The club’s goals were reached when Macon County became a Republican majority!
For 2002 and 2003, Nancy Taro served as president. Again the membership increased and Caring and Sharing community outreach programs expanded. The blood drive honored the victims of the World Trade Center disaster. For the Macon County Humane Society, collars, leashes, toys and food were collected and presented to them along with a decorated Christmas tree. Easter baskets were made up and supplied to KID’s Place and the REACH Shelter. Members participated in the Armed Forces Day Parade and members carpooled to Asheville to co-host the 50th anniversary celebration of the NCFRW. The club’s educational display at the Macon County Fair won a red ribbon in 2002 and a blue ribbon in 2003. Items were collected for American soldiers through Operation Enduring Freedom. Baskets of personal items were taken to the residents of two nursing homes. The club made a generous donation of KID’s Place, and provided boxes of food and volunteers for the Banquet Table to help feed the needy in Macon County. A political booth was sponsored at the Pumpkin Fest. The Lincoln’s Day Chili fundraiser was so successful it helped fund other projects and candidates. Roberta Swank received the NCFRW Tribute to Women award. Gem Country was awarded the NFRW Diamond Award and the NFRW Caring for America Award. Nancy Taro was honored with a picture of George and Laura Bush and a plaque presented to her from Mark Meadows, chairman of the Macon County GOP.
During 2004 and 2005, Linda (McClung) Light Herman served as president. The club held successful blood drives, contributed to the “Baby Think It Over” program at Macon Middle School, gave monetary gift to KID’s Place. Members contributed $300 to have large yellow bows made to welcome home our returning armed forces personnel. The club sponsored “Celebrate America” an event including the singing McAllister Family to promote patriotism. Two sets of “Mouse Books” were given to the library. Community outreach was expanded by adding “Fill the Bus,” “Shop with a Cop,” and Relay for Life. Each year the booth at the Macon County Fair won blue ribbons. The big fundraiser for the year was a barbecue event raising $17,000 for the re-election of Senator Bob Carpenter. Student dictionaries were purchased and donated to the exceptional education classes at South Macon Elementary School. A flag literacy program, spearheaded by Kathy Hildreth featuring Wilma Rogers as Betsy Ross, was presented to East Franklin Elementary School. Our members volunteered for the “Earning By Learning” literacy program sponsored by Representative Charles Taylor. Nancy Taro received the NCFRW Tribute to Women Award. The club received the NFRW Diamond Award and the NFRW Caring for America Award.
In 2006, Pat Tippett was elected president. During that year 40 homemade lap blankets were presented to the residents of local assisted living homes. Personal kits were made up and given to KID’s Place. Members regularly brought cans and staple foods to the meetings that were delivered to CareNet to help feed the poor in Macon County. Members emailed “Just Say Thanks” to soldiers serving in Iraq. Christmas cards were sent to recovering American soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Also Beanie Babies were collected and provided to American Soldiers to hand out to Iraqi children, through Operational Iraqi Children. Items were collected and delivered to Fort Bragg. Members filled shoe boxes for Samaritan’s Purse, a Franklin Graham ministry, with school supplies, toys, necessity items, candy and a letter of encouragement which were shipped to underprivileged children in third world countries. Kathy Hildreth was appointed to the state board to chair the statewide Caring for America project. Two members, Suisan DeSilva and Dawn Trammel ran for local elected offices. Our big fundraiser was the compilation of a cookbook “Gems From the Kitchen.” Charter member Wilma Rogers passed away this year. She was the driving force behind the successful coat and toy give-aways. An engraved brick was placed in Memory Lane at the Historical Society in her honor.
Pat Tippett stepped down as president, and vice president Ann Farrell became president. During 2007, Roberta Swank was appointed to the school board. Susan DeSilva was elected treasurer of the Macon County Republican Party. Kathy Hildreth was elected the NCFRW Mountain Region Vice President and was also a member at large of the 11th District which automatically made her a board member of the NCGOP. Joyce Handley was elected to the Town of Franklin Board of Aldermen. Blue Ribbons were awarded to our display at the Macon County Fair both years. The club was awarded the NFRW Diamond and also first place for the Caring for America Award.
During 2008 and 2009, Ann Farrell was elected president. Susan Pons filed as a candidate for the 50th District for the N.C. Senate. Dodie Allen filed as a candidate for the N.C. House of Representatives in District 119. Roberta Swank ran for the Macon County School Board as well as associate members Allan Allman and Brian Bateman. Associate member Jimmy Goodman ran for Macon County Commissioner. The club’s Chili Day fundraiser was very success which enabled the club to contribute to the candidates’ campaigns. Members volunteered their time at the Republican Headquarters answering phones, greeting visitors, mailing fliers and handing out yard signs, bumper stickers and pins. Member Rebecca Ammons passed away in August. Thirty dictionaries were presented to the South Macon Middle School. A copy of Lynn Cheney’s book, “We the People – a Story of our Constitution” was presented to the public library and also one to Trimont Christian School library. The club received the NCFRW Cardinal Award for achievement of the 2008 Rise goals related to increase in club membership. Samaritan’s purse shoe boxes were filled again. Items were collected all year long for the Fisher House at Fort Bragg and before Christmas treat bags, bushels of apples and needed supplies were loaded on the “Bragg’n’Wagon” and delivered. Members read stories to children at Macon Program for Progress. Club supported the Macon County Tea Party and Freedom Works events. The Gem Country newsletter “Elephant Ears” won First Place at the NCFRW board meeting. Our club presented a $500 donation to the Macon County veteran’s memorial. A young Republican club was organized with our support. Chili Day was a successful fundraiser again this year. Joyce Smith was presented the first Gem Country Republican Women’s Club lifetime membership. School items were collected to help “Fill the Bus” in August. County Fair display received a red ribbon. Canned goods and staples were collected through the year for CareNet. Books were donated to the library and to the Victory Christian School. Easter baskets were made up and distributed to KID’s Place and Reach. Longtime member Lois Richardson passed away in December. The 2009 NFRW Biennial Convention was held in Orlando, Fla., and the club received the Diamond Award.
Margaret Lee Willoughby was elected president for 2010 and 2011. Kathy Hildreth was appointed the Mountain Region Area Representative and Ann Farrell was appointed the NCFRW Caring for America chair. A book written by Meg Whitman was presented to the Macon County library. The seventh annual Chili Day was a real success and provided us funds to support candidates and community activities. Easter baskets were distributed to KID’s Place, REACH and the Sheriff’s Department. School supplies were presented to “Fill the Bus.” GOP Headquarters opened in August with Carla Miller as the coordinator. Barbara Setser, longtime member, passed away in August. The club distributed Halloween candy at the M.C. Festival in the Park. Six local candidates won election – Jim Davis, Donna Forga, Ron Haven, Robbie Holland, Gary Shields, and Roger West. During each meeting we collected money for the Humane Society and in December dog and cat food was purchased and delivered. Susan Pons was appointed the NCFRW Americanism chairperson. The Eighth Chilli Day was successful and funded the Caring for America projects. Sylvia Helzel, a charter member, passed away in May and the club honored her with purchasing an engraved brick for the Historical Society. In June the club hosted the NCFRW Regional meeting at the First United Methodist Church. Attendees representing seven counties met for lunch and were provided a wonderful program. In July, we joined with the M.C. Republican Party, Tea Party and Freedom Works for a Freedom Rally. On August 6th, associate member Senator Bob Carpenter passed away. In August our membership drive included a Fashion Show and luncheon at the Christian Training Center. In fulfilling the Barbara Bush emphasis on literacy, the club gifted the third grade students at Trimont Christian Academy with individual dictionaries. The club’s display at the Macon County Fair won a red ribbon. By sponsoring the Pizza, Pickin’ and Politikin’ luncheon in November, the club raised funds to help support Headquarters. It was a large event with many candidates and elected officials there and Phil Drake as keynote speaker. The club collected items for Fort Bragg that were delivered the following February.
For 2012 and 2013, Kathy Hildreth was elected president.