Holly, MI is home to the state’s only existing George Washington Club. “I believe it is the oldest existing one in the country,” says Kaye Thorsby, Secretary of the club, which celebrates 124 years this month. Thorsby has been in the club for many years, and is now the third generation in her family to be a member. Her mother, Margaret Thorsby, belonged, and started going with her mother as a teenager.
The Holly George Washington Club was founded in 1893 by a man named R.K. Devine, who Thorsby says was described as “a patriot and lover of history.” “He got people to celebrate Washington’s Birthday at the Hirst Hotel, which is now the Historic Holly Hotel,” she reports. “That’s how it started.” According to the original club charter, it was meant to be a social gathering to develop friendships and exchange intellectual ideas, she adds. There were only two times when the club did not meet: once in 1918, during World War I due to food rationing, and the other time was due to a flu outbreak in the 1920s. When the club first started, meetings were like a fashion show, very formal, and local seamstresses stayed very busy making dresses for women to wear to the event.
The George Washington Club is unique, as it has just one annual meeting on the third Thursday in February to honor our nation’s first president around his birthday. The club celebrates by hosting a luncheon, which is open to the community. “The menu is always the same,” says Thorsby. Attendees enjoy baked ham, escalloped potatoes, carrot salad and rolls. “And there’s always cherry pie, George’s favorite,” she adds. For many years, the pies were provided by a longtime Holly baker and club member, Carl MacArthur.
The luncheon has been held at various locations over the years, including the Methodist Church, Baird’s Opera House in Holly, the Masonic Temple and many other churches. Along with the meal, the agenda typically includes a presentation and patriotic music. This year, as it has been for many years, the luncheon will be held at the First Baptist Church of Holly.
For the last five years, the club has awarded a $500 scholarship to a Holly High School senior who has an interest in history and is involved in the community. “Hopefully, we are creating interest in young people to keep the club going,” Thorsby says. In the past, the club has held student essay contests, as well.
Each year, a new club president and vice president are elected, with the secretary and treasurer staying the same. Pat Wall has been the treasurer for many years. The current president is Pat Phenning, with past presidents including Steve Striggow, Chester Koop, Katie Hughes, Joe Mishler, Tom McKenney and Dale Smith, to name a few. Thorsby and her mother are also past presidents.
The $8 luncheon ticket includes the club membership fee. According to Thorsby, many local and state officials attend. “Senator (former Secretary of State) Ruth Johnson has come quite often,” says Thorsby, “as well as many elected township and village officials and community members.”
Thorsby and her mother enjoy the annual luncheon, which always begins with “The Star-Spangled Banner” and ends with the singing of “May God Be With You.” This year, the program will feature patriotic music sung by the Holly High School Choir accompanied by an ensemble from the high school band. George Washington photos and memorabilia are usually on display. The Friends of the Library volunteer their time every year to serve the food, Thorsby adds. “The cooks from the Baptist Church do a tremendous job preparing the food.”
“It’s just a special time,” says Margaret Thorsby,” and we truly enjoy the program.”
“Tradition is so important to a community,” says Kaye. “This one is pretty special. It brings us together.”
The First Conspiracy
Did you know there was a plan to assassinate our nation’s first president? According to intellectualtakeout.org, in June 1776, when the future of the American Colonies looked bleak, a plot to assassinate Gen. George Washington was laid bare. Washington and the Continental Army were in New York, a city described by one historian as “a citadel of Tory sentiment.” Because Loyalist sentiment was so strong, many feared for the safety of Washington, their revered leader.
The fears were not unfounded. Weeks before American rebels would formally declare independence from the British Crown, an assassination plot against Washington was exposed. The conspiracy involved William Tryon, former Governor of New York, the city’s Tory Mayor, David Mathews, and a member of Washington’s personal guard, Sgt. Thomas Hickey.
The plot never hatched. American rebels got wind of the conspiracy when Hickey, in jail on a counterfeiting charge, bragged of the plan to his cell mate, a man named Issac Ketcham, who shared the information with authorities. Mathews was placed under house arrest after admitting he had made contact with Britain (though he denied involvement in the plot). At his court-martial, Hickey declined to make a defense and was sentenced to death by hanging.
You can read about the plot in a recently published book by Brad Meltzer and television documentary producer, Josh Mensch: The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington. “It’s an intriguing look at the so-called ‘Hickey plot,’ the foiled conspiracy that, had it succeeded, might have killed the American Dream before it even began,” says writer, Michael Schaub in a review of this fascinating book.