Nov. 6, 2006

Singing telegram group keeps its members young

By Ryan Gueningsman
Managing Editor

“The secret to staying young is finding an age you really like – and sticking with it.”

That is just one of the friendly “words of wisdom” that members of the General Federated Women’s Club of Delano provide when they perform singing telegrams for special occasions of any sort.

It is a fundraising effort for the local organization, but more importantly, it turns the group of women into “kids again.”

Jeanie Pilarski, who has been a member of the General Federated Women’s Club of Delano for three years, was brainstorming with some non-traditional ways to raise money for the organization.

She saw the words “singing telegrams” on a sheet the national order had compiled for different fundraising opportunities, and thought it was something she wouldn’t mind trying.

The group’s first singing telegram came last May for Tom Screeden, who is the vice president of Bank West in Buffalo, where Pilarski’s daughter, Sara, works.

“We were all nervous,” Pilarski recalled. “We were thinking ‘what have we gotten ourselves into?’”

But with encouragement from Sara, the group walked into the bank, hollering “Where’s Tom? We’re here to celebrate,” Pilarski said. “All the tellers came around and watched Tom.”

“We had a great time, and we think Tom did, too,” Pilarski said. “On our way home, we laughed and talked about what a great time we had – that was the start.”

From there, the group grew a bit in numbers, and the regulars became Pilarski, Alice Fink, Norma Wandersee, and Karen Otto, who provides keyboard accompaniment.

Others who sing when they are available include Barb Merriman, who is the main writer of the customized lyrics the group uses for their singing telegrams, Lisa Blodgett, Lu Ludescher, Ann Lundsten, Penny Loeffler, and Lay James.

“Barb writes lyrics that pertain to the person being honored,” Pilarski said. “This has really added to our program.”

Pilarski said the group practices once or twice before each “gig,” and also receives advice from Otto on how to sing the song, and what props or actions will work the best.

“We have fun practicing, brainstorming on what to do, and the actual singing telegram,” she said. “We all enjoy entertaining and making someone’s day special. It is very rewarding.”

The group has sung mainly for birthdays, but has also sung for Gary and Dave Zitzloff, who were named citizens of the year this summer, as well as at a 50th anniversary celebration for Bobby and Sharon Farniok.

Since its first singing telegram at the bank in May of last year, the group has done more than 15 singing telegrams at different places in and around the Delano area.

“We’re pretty small,” Pilarski said. “We like to stay local. Because most of us in the group are retired, we’re usually available, no matter what.”

Their most recent singing telegram came Oct. 23 for Florence Shodeen’s 89th birthday at the Haven Homes Nursing Home in Maple Plain. Shodeen is the grandmother of Lori Hanson of Delano.

“These women put so much into these singing telegrams, that it makes a very touching event,” Hanson said. “My grandmother loved it, and commented later that she never had a song written about her. This is a very special group of ladies that do a lot for our community and many times go unnoticed.”

Pilarski said the singing telegrams are just one of the events the club does. Others include a card marathon; omelet breakfast, which is set to take place Sunday, Nov. 12; the snowflake luncheon, and the spring banquet, where the group picks its citizen of the year.

“There’s not a lot of pressure,” Pilarski said of the group. “You pretty much do what you want to do, and find something that works for you.”

It seems Pilarski and her crew have found their niche with the singing telegrams.

“You get together,” she said, “and you’re just like a bunch of kids again.”

To arrange a customized singing telegram

Pilarski said the singing telegrams cost $35, and the group likes to know at least a week in advance so it can write the song and get in a practice session or two.

The cost includes the singers, a bouquet of balloons, a card bearing your name and message, words of wisdom, and the lyrics from the song. The group is available in the Delano area, usually from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

All proceeds from the telegrams go toward the General Federated Women’s Club of Delano’s community improvement projects.

For more information, contact Pilarski at (763) 972-3360 or Fink at (763) 972-2527.

“We will work with you to surprise your special person,” Pilarski said. “We would love to be a part of your party, or just surprise someone you care about. We guarantee it’ll be fun!”

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