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ALACHUA ‒ The Alachua Woman’s Club was ablaze with lights and sounds of the season last Saturday night as they celebrated the Charity Ball of Saint Nicholas. The Alachua Woman’s Club organization and its landmark historic stone building have been fixtures on Main Street since 1936. The club itself was founded in 1912 during the summer when three new classrooms were built onto the wooden school house in Alachua. The county school board had no money available to buy the furnishings for the new classrooms, including desks, chairs, blackboards, books, and even chalk.

A primary teacher by the name of Mrs. Hilton, who had taught in other schools brought an idea that she had seen work in other places before a gathering of Alachua parents and teachers. Her suggestion was for parents and teachers to join together and form a club that would focus on solving the problems of school needs.

Originally called The School Improvement Club of Alachua, the group was charged with creating unity and fellowship for a woman's organization, so the members were primarily female.

They organized fund raising projects throughout the year and were able to raise enough money to furnish the new schoolrooms, pay a $125 down on a piano, and hire a janitor for the school, and they continued their goal though the years. In 1921 the club members decided that not only did the school need their continued help, but also there were many things they could do to help the community so they changed the club’s name to The Improvement Club of Alachua.

By 1924, the group had grown bigger and idea of an central clubhouse was discussed, but it would be another 14 years before the historic building on Main Street was built. In 1949 the club’s name changed once again and became The Alachua Woman’s Club (AWC). But the focus through the years stayed the same—an organization of women focused on helping schools and education by raising funds and volunteer work.

Each year the AWC awards a full, two-year scholarship to Santa Fe College to a girl graduating from Santa Fe High School. They also operate the first Food 4 Kids program in Alachua, which provides food for hungry children at Alachua Elementary School. Each holiday season they donate funds to the two elementary schools to help provide toys and clothes for children in need.

The clubhouse is not only a meeting place, but is also used to host events and raise funds for charitable projects as a rental event space, so the building has seen a lot of use including a restoration campaign in 2007. Old buildings need upkeep and during the pandemic shutdown, the club made some major repairs. The wood floors needed sanding and varnish. Cracks in the 73-year-old structure needed structural repairs, plastering, and painting.

“The amount of support from the community and business was amazing,” said Alachua CRA director Lindsey Rizzo. “We had volunteers to do much of the work for free and financial funding from a number of organizations.”

But there is still work to be done, so as their first event since the pandemic, the Woman's Club held their first annual Charity Ball of Saint Nicholas on Dec. 4 to thank all their sponsors and supporters and raise additional funds with a silent auction.

Saint Nicholas greeted all the guests at the door and mingled with the crowd during the reception hour as guests enjoyed appetizers from a buffet provided by caterer Taste of Gainesville while Wayne's World DJ provided music and guests had the opportunity to place bids for the silent auction.

At 7 p.m. Woman's Club Building Manager Emelie Matthews and Rizzo gave awards to their top three Gold Sponsors - Holiday Inn Express, Polaris of Gainesville and Emory Group Companies. They also thanked six Platinum sponsors and the 15 partners in the restoration efforts.

Santa, now dressed as the authentic Saint Nicholas of Myra, told the history of the man and how he transitioned into Santa Claus. The DJ also led the assembled group in a sing along of Christmas songs and the evening finished off with an hour of dancing and announcement of the winners of the silent auction, which saw all items sold. For members of the Woman's Club, who spend their energy and resources helping others, it was a night that the community gave back to them in the Christmas spirit.

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