By Chea Waters Evans
Once a month, a group of women from the area gather together to catch up, have a bite to eat, and put on a fancy hat. These aren’t your typical “ladies who lunch,” though. Their hats are loud and their laughter is louder, and they stand for everything fun and freeing about being middle-aged. They are the Ladies of the Lake Red Hats, part of a national organization called the Red Hat Society, and they are celebrating their 10th anniversary in Shelburne on July 18 with a catered lunch and a lot of fun.
The poem “Warning” by Jenny Joseph starts with the lines, “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple / With a red hat that doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.” Years ago, this poem inspired a woman to gift a red hat to a friend, and then another, and then another, and now there are more than 40,000 Red Hat Society groups around the world. Vermont has several of its own, including the Ladies of the Lake, which consists of mostly women from Shelburne and Charlotte, with a few members from other surrounding towns.
There’s no president of this club; their leader goes by Queen Katharine. In her regular life she is Katharine Stockman, a Shelburne resident and stone carver who teaches stone carving and owns Shelburne Pond Studios. Stockman said she was drawn to the Red Hat Society about six years ago when she saw an article about the group in the Burlington Free Press. “They looked like they were having fun,” she said. As the queen for the last four years, she said what started as a reason “to make sure I treated myself to lunch once a month” turned into something more meaningful. These monthly gatherings provide her and her fellow society members with “friendship, a lot of fun, laughing, and letting our hair down.”
The 10th anniversary of the Ladies of the Lake is on July 18, at Stockman’s farm in Shelburne, and she encourages any women who are interested to give her a call and come join in the fun. Women aged 50 and above may wear red hats; younger members are always welcome, but the under-50 crowd wears pink hats instead. Although there are occasional speakers or musical guests, the main focus of the lunches, which are kept affordable at under $20, is conversation. “We do like to talk!” group co-founder Ann Bielawski said.
Bielawksi and her friend and bridge partner Gert Lotz didn’t know what to expect when they started the group a decade ago. Bielawski went to the mall, picked out a hat, and got some friends together for their first meeting. “We had no idea how long it would last,” Bielawksi said, “Gert and I took it on as a project.” The focus of the group has always been camaraderie and fun, and they are going strong with about 25 regular members. Bielawski said her favorite thing about the gatherings, by far, is that “I met a lot of wonderful new people, who I would not have met” if it weren’t for the Red Hats. “We welcomed anybody who wanted to join,” she said.
This still holds true today. Bielawski said she hopes the 10th anniversary celebration will “welcome back some old-timers, and new members, too.” Those interested in attending the anniversary party, or any other Ladies of the Lake gathering, can contact Queen Katharine at (802) 999.4394 or firstname.lastname@example.org.