Hats on to aging well: Regal Wallingford Divas tilt red hats to fun, friendship

When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple, with a red hat that doesn't suit me."

This is the first line of the poem "Warning," by British writer Jenny Joseph. The poem has put a lighthearted twist on aging since it was written in 1961, encouraging women everywhere to approach life with a sense of indulgent adventure and silliness.

A bit of fun and "mischief" is just what the ladies at the University House at Wallingford retirement community had in mind when they began getting together in May 2004 to share stories and laughter on the last Sunday of each month.

The Regal Wallingford Divas, as they are known, are a local chapter of the Red Hat Society, a "disorganization" of women over age 50 who have fun and celebrate successful aging.

The Red Hat Society was started in 1998, by Sue Ellen Cooper, who formed a tea group with several female friends in Fullerton, Calif., after becoming inspired by a red fedora and a copy of the poem "Warning" that she bought for a friend's 55th birthday.

Today, there are more than 850,000 Red Hatters and more than 34,000 chapters worldwide. Members don't adhere to any rules, but their unofficial "uniform" consists of red hats of all shapes and sizes, and purple attire, as mentioned in the poem. The Society's motto is, "Red Hatters matter."

University House employee Donna Hyatt came across a meeting of a local chapter of Red Hatters by happenstance at a restaurant in West Seattle last year.

"They were laughing and having so much fun," Hyatt said. "I approached one of the women later that evening, and she gave me some information about starting a group. It's been a hit here [at University House] since it began."

The Regal Wallingford Divas embrace the Red Hat uniform and motto with joy and fervor at University House, where each of the 30 or so members attend meetings in red and purple regalia to suit their own interests and personalities.

Diva Yetta Feldman's hat is a royal crown version with a crimson velvet top fit for a fun-loving queen.

Evelyn Partridge found her straw hat at a local consignment shop, tinted it red and added a bright-orange blossom and delicate black netting.

"You have to let go of your inhibitions a bit," Partridge said. "The theory [behind the red and purple garb] is that, 'When I get older, I can do whatever I want to do.'"

Meetings typically last about two hours, as group members get together to enjoy each other's company. This month's luncheon will be at the Rusty Pelican on North 45th Street in Wallingford. In April, they plan to take the community activities bus to Tacoma for a national convention in celebration of the Red Hat Society's anniversary.

There are no meeting minutes, no dues and no one takes attendance.

"It's frivolous, luxurious fun," Ann Stielstra said.

"It increases your social contacts," Mary Hubert said. "You have the chance to get out and meet people without any pressure."

The group's members each offer a rich variety of backgrounds and interests. Hilde Berry, 94, exercises seven days a week, including a game of outdoor tennis. Sylvia Moore is planning a month-long Elderhostel trip to Australia and New Zealand.

"I think that one of the fascinating things about this community is that the people here have had such wonderful experiences," Partridge said.

Although the Divas currently consist of residents at University House at Wallingford, they are open to new recruits.

"Membership is available to any woman over 50 who is looking for fun and is open to the possibility of being a little silly and making some new friends," Hyatt said.

To learn more about the Regal Wallingford Divas, contact University House at 545-8400, or or visit the Red Hat Society website at www.red hatsociety.com.[[In-content Ad]]