Rockne Roll/News-Register##Joanne Walker, Dorothy Parker, Darlene Grauer, Lisa McRae and Sharyl Michael make stocking cap ornaments during the FCE Spring Festival.
Rockne Roll/News-Register##Joanne Walker, Dorothy Parker, Darlene Grauer, Lisa McRae and Sharyl Michael make stocking cap ornaments during the FCE Spring Festival.
Rockne Roll/News-Register##Linda Bird, left, stamps out greeting cards alongside Phyllis Hoag, right, and Maria McManus at the Family and Community Education Spring Festival held March 15 at the Amity Christian Church.
Rockne Roll/News-Register##Linda Bird, left, stamps out greeting cards alongside Phyllis Hoag, right, and Maria McManus at the Family and Community Education Spring Festival held March 15 at the Amity Christian Church.
By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Stopping By: Learning together

Back in 1973, an Oregon State University extension agent contacted numerous young mothers in the McMinnville area, asking if they’d like to join a new homemakers’ club. 

It would be one of nearly a dozen such clubs around the county, all affiliated with the Oregon Association for Family and Community Education, launched in the early 1930s.

Ann Engen said her mother-in-law, a member of one of the clubs, encouraged the young mother to give the new McMinnville club a try. “I joined because I needed friends,” she said.

Engen and other original members, including Joyce Savage and Dotty Keister, named their group the “Yamhill County Young Homemakers” — an apt description at the time. Still active and enthusiastic about FCE, they’ve since changed the name to the equally apt “Creative Homemakers.”

By any name, Engen said, she finds club activity a vital part of her life. She values the monthly FCE classes, which members take turns teaching; FCE’s overarching mission, such as ending human trafficking and advocating for a universal living wage; and activities of the individual chapters, such as adopting a family at Christmas or making baby items or lap robes for those in need.

She also values the personal connections she’s made during more than 40 years with the program.

“The friendships ... the way we support one another,” she said, recalling how members have helped each other celebrate joys and deal with crises. “It’s a safe place to rant, to cry, to share, and women need that.”

Engen has not only served as local president, but has also held state and national posts. And through it all, she said, she’s had a lot of fun.

The Oregon Association for Family and Community Education has its roots in the school of domestic science and art, founded more than a century ago at the Oregon Agricultural College, now Oregon State University.

In 1913, the school’s dean, Ava Milam, toured Oregon offering cooking lessons for farm wives in rural locations. Advocating “eat your vegetables,” Milam showed them how to emulsify eggs and oil to make mayonnaise as a dip for vegetables in their natural state.

It was the beginning of a tradition of teaching safe and efficient food preparation to small groups. But the “study clubs” brought women together for social interaction as well as education.

In 1932, with home economics and nutrition science burgeoning, the groups came under the umbrella of the Oregon Extension Homemakers Council — a name the organization still held in 1982, when its president, Mary Sorber, spoke at its golden anniversary celebration.

In her address, Sorber noted that members of the organization traditionally worked to improve the world as well as improve themselves. She noted they had raised money for the first women’s dorm at OSU, for instance, along with funding scholarships, advocated for fair labor laws, promoted higher sanitary standards in hospitals and lobbied for the fulfillment of other vital needs.

The organization grew steadily for decades. Lynda Nyseth of the Amity chapter recalled more than 1,100 people attending the national convention held in Portland in 1991, with Yamhill County members serving as hostesses.

Membership has declined somewhat since, as more women have gone to work full time. FCE is open to anyone, but women predominate.

Some members, such as Engen, have juggled their work schedules to attend daytime meetings. Others, like Sally Wyffels of the Amity club, have postponed FCE activities until retirement.

The Extension Service no longer depends solely on OSU for its programs. It often partners with other organizations, such as the American Heart Association and Yamhill County Genealogical Society. The latter contributed to the FCE’s Yamhill-Polk Spring Festival, held March 15 in Amity.

The clubs take field trips, too, in addition to meeting in members’ homes each month from September to May. Local groups have visited Bob’s Red Mill for an educational tour, for instance.

Back when Engen and other longtime members joined, FCE lessons focused on sewing clothing, preparing big family meals and raising children — all topics helpful to young homemakers.

Today’s lessons may focus on exercising in order to stave of osteoporosis, cooking for one or two, limiting sugar and salt intake, caring for aging skin and preparing a will — topics of interest to those same homemakers at a different stage in life, as well as retirees joining more recently.

The organization has grown and changed with the times — and that, local members said, keeps it relevant, vital and important. 

“Some of us are in it for the classes, some to meet other people,” said Nyseth, a second-generation member. “For some, it may have been their only outing.”

Nyseth’s mother loved taking FCE classes and implementing what she learned. After a session on cooking outdoors, for example, she got her family together with that of another member for a barbecue.

When Nyseth had children of her own, her mother encouraged her to join the organization as well. She recalled her mom saying, ‘I’ll watch the kids. You go.’”

Wyffels also is the daughter of a one-time FCE member.

She learned more about the organization when she was a Linfield College student doing work study with the Extension Service. And after her daughter was born, she joined.

Like many women, she put FCE on pause when she went to work full time. But after she retired from the Amity School District in 2008, she accepted an invitation from Keister to re-join.

Wyffels is glad she did. She has made many friendships through the organization, and she’s enjoyed the classes.

But for her, she said, the biggest benefit has been leadership training. “Everyone gets a chance to be an officer,” said Wyffels, who is serving as director for District 3, which includes Yamhill, Polk, Marion, Linn and Lane counties.

Yamhill County once had 11 clubs, with names such as Chehalem Valley, Baker Creek, Mill Creek, White Cloud and Bellevue-Masonville. Three remain — the Creative Homemakers, based in McMinnville, and chapters in Amity and Sheridan.

Members of those groups joined their counterparts from Polk County at the spring festival. They listened to genealogy presentations and participated in activities.

Each club decorated a table according to the theme, Honoring Our Flag, using patriotic symbols, pictures of early presidents and plenty of red, white and blue. 

Nyseth gave a short lesson about the origin and meaning of the American flag. When members played bingo, they used cards covered with flag-related words, such as “stars,” “National Anthem” and “pledge.” 

Linda Bird sold tickets for a prize basket drawing. She said she got the job because she’s served as the Sheridan club’s treasurer for 20 years — ever since she joined.

“It gives me a place to go on the first Thursday, and I learn every month,” she said. She’s also had a good time leading lessons, such as a recent one about exercises you can do using a chair for support.

During the day-long festival, FCE members also made craft items. Cheryl Michael showed other members how to make hat ornaments from lengths of yarn.

Michael recalled joining her first FCE group in 1972. It was the Hopewell Moonlighters.

“We all had kids, so we met at night while our husbands watched the children,” she said.

The first class she attended was called “Mrs. Fixit.”

“We learned to wire a lamp and fix a toilet,” she said. “That really impressed me.”

More recently, she’s taken classes on how to counter cyberbullying and prepare a will.

When the Moonlighters disbanded, Michael joined the Creative Homemakers. She served as club president, led lessons and recruited new members.

“It’s a wonderful organization,” Michael said. “These are the best women in the world.”

FCE has helped her meet people from all over the county, such as Lidia McRae, Kay Morgan, Donna Michaelson, Joanne Walker and Alice Wicks.

Wicks, affiliated with the Amity group, will mark 45 years in the organization this September.

She recalled one of her first lessons, which featured the then-new technology of home microwaving. What she learned in that class helped her choose her first microwave oven, she said.

Impressed with the organization, Wicks has brought other local residents to the study group meetings. “When my dear friend Alice invited me, I thought, ‘Why not?’” Maria McManus recalled. 

“I enjoy the welcoming of it,” McManus added. “I enjoy how they reach out to the community.”

Darlene Grauer of Sheridan is grateful that FCE gave her a chance to meet others, as well. She joined in the 1970s, when her sons were young. “When you have four boys, you kinda want to get out every once in awhile,” she quipped.

Sharon Herron also was a young mother when she joined what is now Creative Homemakers back in 1975.

She still attends the monthly meetings in order to connect with other members. “The friendships I’ve made over the years are so valuable,” she said.

In addition, the Hopewell resident said, the FCE lessons have given her “a great education over the years.”

While the monthly lessons are educational, the spring festival is devoted more to relaxation. In addition to the genealogy program, this year’s edition feature craft classes, bingo, a potluck and prize drawings.

A nice day, said Amity member Phillis Hoag, who may have been to more spring festivals than anyone else in attendance.

The 86-year-old has been an FTE member for 59 years. She joined when she lived in Eastern Oregon, and transferred her membership to Amity when her family moved to Yamhill County about 30 years ago.

“I was interested in being a better homemaker,” she recalled.

Her first study club met at her children’s school.

“It was mainly cooking and sewing then,” she said. Members took turns leading lessons about making recipes more nutritious, putting in zippers and other handy topics.

Hoag sewed her first dress in a study group class. Later, she learned quilting techniques, and industriously sewed quilts for all her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Using another skill learned in the study group, she next turned to embroidering pillowcases.

She said she looks forward to meetings.

“It’s fun to get together every month,” she said. “It’s a good time. We learn. We always learn something new, something interesting, at each meeting. That keeps your mind active.”

Hoag said she will always cherish friendships made through FCE. “We get to know each other and depend on each other,” she said.

Not long ago, she fell and was laid up at home for a while.

“Members brought food for us, looked in on us,” she said. “Everybody was great.” 

Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. She’s always looking for suggestions. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or

 FCE focuses on education, causes

The Oregon Association for Family & Community Education is a nonprofit organization devoted to “strengthening individuals, families and communities through continuing education, developing leadership and community action.”

The organization focuses on causes such as human trafficking, breaking the cycle of poverty, consumer and cyber protection and other issues, along with health and nutrition education, character building and leadership.

Commonly called FCE, it is open to anyone, female or male. Most of the local members are women.

They’re mostly adults, as well. Teen groups exist in some areas of the country.

Many of the members of Yamhill County’s three study groups have belonged for decades. They were young mothers when they started.

Members sometimes bring their children or grandchildren along. For some, though, attending study group meetings are a chance to break away from domestic duties.

For more information, go to or the website for the national organization,

Volunteer is ‘heart of FCE’

At the Yamhill-Polk spring festival, Family & Community Education members honored Donna Hulett of Sheridan with the “Heart of FCE” award.

Hulett is an active volunteer. Not only does she participate in the Sheridan FCE study group, she volunteers with the Sheridan Museum of History and Yamhill County Historical Society. She takes part in quilting organizations and gives quilting history demonstrations. In addition, she attends Rotary and Sheridan city meetings.

A Sheridan native and graduate of Sheridan High, she raised five children. She also worked as a special education assistant in Sheridan schools for more than 20 years. Since retiring, she’s devoted even more time to volunteering.

FCE members said Hulett is known for saying “yes, I will” when asked to do something. Without hesitating, they said, she asks “when, how, what can I do and what do you need?”

And that, fellow FCE member Lynda Nyseth said, makes Hulett “our heart.”


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