This is part of a series of stories by Sheilla Lampkin on the history of Cooperative Extension Homemakers Clubs.
The Valley Extension Homemakers Club in Drew County, originally called the Possum Valley Club, can be traced back to 1928 when it was established as an “information center” for the women of the community as well as a social outlet. Although the Extension programs in Arkansas have had several formal titles, the Valley Club began, and has existed, since it was established under the direction of Extension agent Julia Lester over 80 years ago.
However, the club found its “true and heartfelt” purpose in 1985 when it adopted the role of preserver, provider and protector of the old Valley Methodist Church building. In that year a tradition began that has continued and grown through the next 26 years. The club established the Possum Valley Fun Day to raise funds for the upkeep and maintenance of the church building and property that now serves as their community center.
The annual Possum Valley Fun Day, is, and always has been, part local gathering day and part homecoming for those with roots in the Valley and mostly just good, clean family fun. The Fun Day is traditionally held the last Saturday in October.
The first Fun Day activities included music, homemade “goodies” and homemade craft items such as pillowcases, dish towels, and potholders, for sale, as well as other activities.
While many of the activities have been held outdoors, one highlight of the day has always been held inside the church. That has been the quilt show. Quilter extraordinaire Thelma Ellis has handled it from its inception and also provides a quilt to be auctioned annually. For the first quilt auction Thelma provided a quilt pieced in the bowtie pattern; Hershel Gober was the auctioneer and Winston O’Neil had the winning bid.
There was also a beauty contest that first year. The Valley “matrons” were the contestants. Each lady had a jar with her name on it on a special table and attendees voted by casting a penny in the jar of their favorites. The lady who raised the most money was declared winner. The late Mert Jolley was the first winner.
That first year, entertainers performed from the bed of a long hay trailer. In 1986 a concrete pavilion was poured to provide a stage and seating.
Initially, the funds were used to reroof the old Valley Methodist Church building and paint it. Later, Van Brown led a drive to raise funds to put siding on the old building. In the following years, funds raised have provided a cover for a concrete pad, bathrooms and a kitchen, extensions to the pad, a basketball court and a public address. Many other improvements have occurred over the years through funds raised during at Fun Day. Yet the church has also been maintained.
Possum Valley Fun Day has seen many changes and additions through the years. Various games and activities have come – and gone, including possum races, cake walks, auctions and several “beauty” contests.
However, the Fun Day’s favorite activity would have to be the evening dances. The last event of the day is a dance and dancers come from many places in, and out, of Drew County to enjoy this event.
The 2009 Possum Valley Fun Days were dedicated to the memory of the late James “Shorty” Glennon who loved the Valley and the Fun Day tradition and always volunteered to help. After the last item was auctioned and the last song sung, Mr. Glennon would grab a sack and spread corn meal on the concrete floor. Then the dancing would begin. The dancers seemed to glide more smoothly across the dusted floor and the soft, swooshing sound of the dancers’ feet felt like a lullaby.
The Valley Extension Club has been, and is, very active in all aspects of the extension homemakers’ programs. They are ready and willing to serve and seem to especially enjoy their day in the kitchen at the county fair.
They once met monthly at Bethel Methodist Church to hold quilting “bees”. Now many of the younger members work and other activities have lessened many of these meetings. However, Mrs. Thelma Ellis is still active and keeps the tradition alive. The club still meets monthly for food, fellowship and planning time for the next Possum Valley Fun Day. Every last Saturday in October the hills are alive with the sound of music, laughter and family fun. Y’all come.