University City

Providing friendship and charitable work

Mary Turner is never surprised when a member of the University City Women's Group asks her for a moment on the microphone before a club meeting begins.

She has heard the familiar speech come from many different women over the years, especially those who have suffered an illness or other particularly troubling time.

"They will, with tears in their eyes, say 'I just want to take this opportunity to thank everyone for the wonderful cards, flowers, phone calls, meals and prayers. You just don't know what that means to me. I've never been in a group like this.'"

Perhaps that's what club founders Sally Carlin and Debi Thomas intended 24 years ago when they launched UCWG, as a means for women throughout the area to meet and form friendships.

"They started it because the University area, as I always say, was cows, horses and trees," said Turner, the club's current president and a member for 23 years. "There was nothing else going on in the University City area, and these women thought that women needed to come together."

And they did, from just a few in 1987 to nearly 300 by the mid 1990s. Today, a legion of women belongs to the tightly-knit club responsible for hundreds of close friendships and scores of charitable good works.

"It was the best thing that happened to me when I retired, to find all these ladies, because I've made wonderful friends," said Jeanne DeMello, who joined the club in 2006 after ending her career as an accountant. "We do social things and we do for the community. We do it all. We are just old ladies having a good time."

When Sandy Coyer left her time-consuming job as a bank auditor in Charlotte, she didn't know what to do with her spare time. "I went from a 60 hour a week corporate career and realized I didn't have many friends," said Coyer, Ways & Means Committee chairwoman for the club.

She has plenty of friends now, she said. "Oh my goodness. What a group."

Good works have become an end product of the club as well.

Since 1987 UCWG has given $146,000 to nearly 70 local charities.

"That is probably what we're most proud of," said Turner.

The club has presented a check to a variety of charities from well-known organizations like the Salvation Army, to smaller charities the community may not be aware of, like the dentist who provided dental care at his own expense after hours.

The funds come from monthly fundraisers like used book sales, silent auctions, 50/50 raffles, and whatever else members dream up.

"With everything we do we can come up with a pretty good sum," said DeMello.

Each month, the club holds numerous social opportunities, from Bunco and Bridge to touring local Charlotte history and golf outings. The members, though mostly retired, range from their early thirties to early nineties, and events take place during the day, but also evening hours for those who work.

The University City area may look a lot different then it did 24 years ago, said Turner, but the club has not changed.

"I have to say, I really think it is the same," she said. "It's like a little secret in University City. One that we hope will get out."