ABERDEEN – Since the 1990s, a group of ladies wearing red hats, gaudy jewelry, purple blouses and feather boas have commanded attention while eating and laughing monthly at local restaurants. Going a little deeper into the foundation of the Red Hatters, particularly the Highland Hatters of Aberdeen, it has been more of a sisterhood.
“We are encouraged to be ourselves and say what we think. You’re 50 and you made it this far so don’t be embarrassed, get out and enjoy yourself,” said Marsha Ballard, who was the club’s queen mother for the past two years. “We’d talk about our problems, and it was really a sisterhood. Someone may have marriage problems or sickness in the family. We’d get in the car and talk about anything. We’d say, ‘What happens at Red Hatters stays at Red Hatters.’”
What began with Aberdeen’s original queen mother Ann Wood starting the social club in the 1990s quickly grew into 35 members. She took the idea of the Red Hat Society’s mission to promote fun and friendship among females 50 and older and localized it. Through the years, though, members have passed away, moved, shifted into caretaking roles, fallen ill or just gotten too busy.
Ballard and the club’s last remaining members, Jo Ann Finn, Ginny Pounders, Judy Hansen and Pat Tucker, unofficially met for one final lunch last week and donated the rest of the club’s remaining saving balance to the Friends of the Aberdeen Animal Shelter.
“We could have stayed but with five members, it’s tough. The national dues are a lot, and we didn’t want to be called a club and not be affiliated with the national chapter,” Ballard said.
For years leading up to the end, though, the Red Hatters met monthly at different Aberdeen restaurants and occasionally took road trips and out of town trips to eat. For Ballard, her most memorable takeaway was a trip to the national convention in Nashville.
“Gaudy, honey…when we went to Nashville, they probably had hundreds of vendors. By the time we got back, my credit card was limp, and Virginia Pounders’ credit card had sparks,” she said.
Red Hatters members’ signature look was the clashing colors of purple and red in what they wore.
“I had been dressing that way since the ‘80s,” said Ballard, explaining the club was a perfect fit for her when she joined 10 years ago.
While her closets still have hat boxes, bags and racks with clothes from her time in the club, some of the other members have donated Red Hatters items to the Friends of the Aberdeen Animal Shelter Thrift Store.
Ballard said there are still active clubs in Columbus, West Point and Fulton.
Even though the Highland Hatters of Aberdeen are officially no more, the bond between that group of friends will continue.
“We were close and we were good friends. It’s not like we belonged to a club, and that’s it. We were involved with each other,” Ballard said.