Gathering together for joy and inspiration

A blanket of snow and bone-chilling temps greeted the hardy souls gathered together in the early morning hours of Feb. 2 to await the appearance of the community’s celebrity groundhog, Dunkirk Dave. The seasoned prognosticator rewarded these curiosity-seekers with the promise of an early spring.

On this particular Groundhog Day, another group would convene in the much warmer “gathering room” of St. Joseph Church in Fredonia, seeking a day filled with joy and inspiration. And the good people of the parish were true to their word that every one of the 50 ladies in attendance would leave feeling pampered, refreshed and uplifted.

I knew this event was going to be something special before I even left my car. Registration was to open at 9:30 a.m. It was 9:30 on the dot when I pulled into the church’s front parking lot to find every space spoken for. When I then saw the gathering room pretty much filled to capacity, I had to wonder if all these early birds were Black Friday veterans.

Why were we all here and chomping at the bit? For starters, publicity for this “Women’s Day of Joy and Inspiration” promised all takers a much-needed respite from the mid-winter blahs. And a well-balanced approach by the organizers was designed to address different facets of a woman’s life.

The morning got off to a rousing start with a workshop entitled “Managing Change across the Lifespan,” led by personal coach Brenda J. Hayes, Ph.D. When Dr. Hayes announced she had managed to make a group of corrections officers laugh throughout one of her presentations, we knew we were in for a joyful session.

Inspiration was a dominant theme in her speech. She suggested looking to role models who were able to land on their feet despite great odds. Addressing an audience of mostly middle-aged women, she referenced our parents, members of the “Greatest Generation.” Personally, I believe those remarkable people had but one flaw: making their children the “Overindulged Generation” by doing too much for them.

Dr. Hayes advised us to spend time with people who manage change well instead of chronic worriers. Persistence, determination and hopefulness are key to handling change. She drew a laugh by insisting that “optimists are the happiest people even if they’re delusional.”

Her encouragement to include people in our lives who make us laugh and with whom we can have fun reminded me of this gem from Abraham Lincoln: “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Although Dr. Hayes’ presentation ran well over its time limit, her audience seemed to hunger for more. Speaking of hunger, when lunch time finally arrived I envisioned trays of tuna and ham salad sandwiches, cookies and fruit punch.

Instead, we were treated to a sit-down dinner of chicken cordon bleu or vegetable lasagna. And who could forget the singing waiters in white shirts and black ties making a grand entrance pushing carts full of delectable desserts. Toss in a festive array of door prizes and the $15 admission fee just became the best buy in town.

After lunch, small group sessions were offered. Proving the most popular was Mary Damiano’s talk on nutrition which included preparing healthy food as well as making healthy choices when dining out.

Carole Ricker facilitated a bereavement group. Having just lost my mother, I was most grateful for the opportunity to interact with others who are grieving. I revealed my mother’s oft-repeated prophecy: “When it’s your time to go, you go.” She put an exclamation point on it when 19 years later she died on the same day (Nov. 21) as her only son.

Women of all ages love to experiment with makeup and two reps from Mary Kay cosmetics were more than happy to help us along. Carol Gugino and Valerie Kneitlinger shared their expertise in looking younger the Mary Kay way. The proof was in the pudding as every participant left the gym looking more youthful than when she walked in.

Those lucky enough to sign up for a free 10-minute massage before all the time slots were booked were soothed by skillful massage therapists Joanne Cole and Martha Lesch.

Joy begets joy. And from the opening remark by event coordinator Judy Bradley that the parish volunteers were “overjoyed” by the turnout, it was clear their expectations had been delightfully exceeded.

Let’s hope the sense of fulfillment Judy and her group must be feeling inspires them to make this an annual event. If so, here’s my advice (in Baby Boomer lingo) to the ladies in the community:

Be there or be square.

Mary Ann Herrington is an OBSERVER staff member. Comments may be sent to