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Red Hat Society is red hot in Havre area


An unconventional Havre group formed last fall has grown so quickly that it can't take any more members.

"(Our group) has grown to our capacity now," said Shelley Grant, founder of the Bear Paw Babes of the Red Hat Society. "I think there's going to be more chapters in Havre."

The premise of the group is simple. Once a month they meet for lunch or dinner - wearing clashing clothes. Anyone 50 or older must wear a red hat and purple clothes; younger members must wear a pink hat and lavender outfit to the meetings until they turn 50.

"They look forward to red-uation, we call it," Grant said.

"It's really nice when you get older to chat and giggle and do nothing," she added. "We're just trying to celebrate life and have fun."

The Bear Paw Babes will be featured in a Red Hat parade during the I am Woman style show at the Holiday Village Shopping Center during the Woman to Woman Expo and Symposium in Havre on May 2.

The Havre chapter of the Red Hat Society is part of a growing international movement.

It began in the 1990s when Sue Ellen Cooper of Fullerton, Calif., bought a red hat that caught her eye. A few years later, she read the poem "Warning" by Jenny Joseph.

The poem, written in the early 1960s when Joseph was in her 20s, discussed being able to ignore or flaunt social conventions and norms when she was older, as opposed to having to be responsible and polite and conservative as a younger adult.

The first two lines of the poem are: "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple/With a red hat which doesn't go and doesn't suit me."

Joseph ended the poem by wondering if she should practice a little now, so people wouldn't be surprised when she began to wear purple.

Cooper was inspired to give a red hat and a copy of the poem to a friend of hers, then another. Soon she had a group of friends with hats and the poem, and they decided to have a tea in public in their official, mismatched red-and-purple attire.

A member of the society told a friend in Florida about their group, and the second chapter of the Red Hat Society began.

When the group was featured in Romantic Homes Magazine in July 2000, the interest in new chapters grew.

Grant said the size of the society has ballooned to more than 6,000 chapters worldwide.

The society's Web site says members believe silliness is the comic relief of life. Under that mask of frivolity, a bond forms that comes from the common experiences of the members and an enthusiasm for where life takes them.

Grant echoes that sentiment when she talks about the Bear Paw Babes.

Some members of the chapter have had or are fighting cancer, Parkinson's disease or other ailments, have ill friends or have lost friends or family members. The monthly meetings allow them to share their common experiences, Grant said.

"It's so nice to get together and forget about the troubles of growing older," she added.

Charisse Boedecker, organizer of the Woman to Woman Expo, said organizations like the Red Hat Society seem to become very popular during times of strife, like warfare or economic troubles. They help take people's minds off of troubles, she said.

"I think this is a real good thing," Boedecker said. "And they're sharing it with anybody who wants to get involved."

Grant said the Bear Paw Babes chapter, which had its first meeting, a surprise birthday party, in November, has about 25 members, a little more than it should have.

She expects other women to start new chapters in the area.

"Men can start their own (society) and probably will," she said.


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