History through fashion will be celebrated Friday at the Abilene Woman’s Club Foundation.
It’s an opportunity for the 93-year-old organization to highlight through the decades women’s achievements nationally as well as their contributions to cultural and civic advancements in Abilene.
One recent benchmark is the election of Dorothy Drones, the club’s first Black president.
The Historical Fashion Show luncheon, which is intended to mark the foundation’s founding in December 1928, was moved from that month to February to coincide with Black History Month.
A segregated upbringing
Was Drone surprised that she is the first Black woman to lead the club?
“To be very honest with you, it didn’t surprise me at all, because coming to Abilene in 1967, I’ve been through some interactions that were not so pleasant,” Drones said in a gracious voice.
She was raised by her grandparents in Sedalia, Missouri, where her grandfather was a farm foreman.
“We had our own house and everything on the farm. We were treated very well. So I grew up sort of in a mixed neighborhood, even though during that time it was very segregated,” Drones said.
In that childhood, her grandparents “instilled in me that dedication, commitment and hard work were values that were very good and, along with God, would be very prosperous,” she said.
It was a life viewpoint that has served her well personally and professionally.
Her path to Abilene was by way of Fukuoka, Japan, where her first husband, who was in the Air Force, was stationed for four years.
The people of Japan “were very, very accommodating, very welcoming. I don’t know how it is now, but during that time, they welcomed you there. They did everything they could to make you comfortable.”
Today, she and her second husband, Frank, are the parents of nine children ranging in age from 51 to 63.
Adjusting to Abilene
The welcoming attitude Drones experienced in Japan was less prevalent in Abilene.
“When I came to Abilene in 1967, it was quite different than it is now. Abilene has progressed quite a bit since I first came to Abilene,” Drones said.
The Civil Rights Act of !964 had barred racial segregation by then, but the stroke of a presidential pen did not immediately change hearts and minds.
Drones recalled the challenge of finding housing in town.
“I would call and the Realtor would tell me that they had this nice four-bedroom home or whatever, that was very nice and I could come by and see it. And so I would go by and when I would get there, the Realtor would tell me they were very sorry, but it’s just been rented. That happened several times until I got on base,” Drones said.
There is no bitterness when she recalls that time.
“So, you have to accept and go on,” Drones said. “I was not the type of person that would have confrontations about anything because I lived in Georgia, I lived in Alabama, and lived in Michigan during my travel. I was in the deep South in the ’50s, so I’m aware.”
Drones worked at Hendrick Hospital for a few months after moving to Abilene. In April 1969, she started on the night shift as a patient care tech at West Texas Medical Center, later known as Abilene Regional Medical Center and now is Hendrick South.
During her 49-year career at the hospital, she took advantage of on-the-job training opportunities. She worked in several areas, including nurse staffing coordinator and nurse recruiter. When she stepped down in 2018, she was a human resources employment and benefits coordinator.
Through the years, progress came to the city too, she said, “as far as our culture goes and how we accept and interact with people.”
Drones community services dates back to volunteering in the Air Force base dental clinic in Japan.
Today, she is involved in Altrusa International of the Big Country and Investment Club 2000, having previously led both as president. She is a board member for the G.V. Daniels Recreation Center and currently serves as president of The Saved to Serve Bible Study Ministry.
Drones also is founder of the Mae Dell Young Scholarship that has been awarded for the past 13 years to high school students entering college.
She also is active at Bethel Church Of God In Christ and serves as Abilene district missionary and assistant state supervisor of the Texas Northwest Jurisdictional Women’s Department. She became a missionary in 1997 and received her evangelist missionary license in 2001.
Juggling a large family while also working full-time outside the home and serving the community was manageable because Drones and her second husband worked as a team, she said.
“When we first got married, we made a commitment that we were going to take care of the children together,” Drones said.
That included presenting a unified front before the youngsters.
“Whatever he said when they couldn’t come to me,” she supported, she said. “… And then whatever I said, he went along with it, so we didn’t have any problems. I was very blessed.”
Changing people’s perceptions and attitudes is not easy, Drones said.
“Sometimes you can’t,” she said.
But connecting with people is worth the effort and part of why she has involved herself in different endeavors.
“Getting involved in the community and what is going on not only helps you, but it helps you to help others. And I felt like that you never stop learning. I love people. I love the interaction. And I just love to be busy and involved,” Drones said.
It was because of a personal invitation that Drones first became involved in the foundation in 2016.
“The women were very welcoming. I like the idea of interacting, and they have some wonderful programs that they do on Fridays,” she said.
Drones also was drawn to the group’s mission “to bring a diverse group of women together to have personal and professional relationships,” she said. “They do that through community service, educational opportunities and also participating with other organizations.”
In the give and take that comes in such groups, Drones said she has benefited from bonding with members and attending the educational programs. In return, she has served on various communities and as recording secretary and president-elect.
Drones took over as president in October and said she believes she brings to the club dignity and unity.
“I’ve seen the women working together and join one another. We don’t have any confrontations. If they need to talk with me about anything, they call. I think it’s helped build a better relationship,” Drones said.
Before her term ends, she hopes to initiate a president’s brunch with new members to learn their strengths and ideas and restart a Bible study group.
Fashion show details
Drones will model a modern three-piece, black-and-silver outfit during Friday’s fashion show.
There will be 31 women’s outfits dating back to the early 1900s, said Celina Fennell, who is helping to organize the show. Jewelry, hats, gloves and other accessories will complete the ensembles.
While several dresses, pant suits and tunics will harken to iconic American eras, such as the 1920s Gatsby style, there also will be international fashions on display to tie into major historical events, Fennell said.
With the election of Kamala Harris as vice president, “she brought in two cultures, Jamaica and India. So we have two members who are going to wear something from Jamaica and something from India,” Fennell said.
A member of Native American heritage also will be modeling a modern outfit connected to that heritage, Fennell said.
Decade by decade, speakers will note women’s successes nationally and locally through the AWCF in the arts, music, science and literature. Members will model through the audience outfits that coincide with those eras, Fennell said.
With an eye on its past, the foundation is using the fashion show as a fundraiser and invitation for the public to attend and learn more about becoming a part of its future.
That duality of focus between past and future is how progress is marked.
“It’s hard to change people, but I am hopeful,” Drones said. “And, I believe that perhaps even being a member of the Abilene Woman’s Club and some other entities that it would be a testament that Abilene is progressing and they are changing and that the culture is changing.
“We yet have work to do, but I believe that we are moving forward.”
Laura Gutschke is a general assignment reporter and food columnist and manages online content for the Reporter-News. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.
Historical Fashion Show luncheon
What: A fund development project of the Abilene Woman’s Club Foundation. Door prizes will be awarded, including two one-year AWCF memberships.
When: Friday. Great Hall opens at 10:45 a.m. Lunch served at 11 a.m. Program begins at 11:30 a.m.
Where: Abilene Woman’s Club, 3425 S 14th St.
Cost: $30 per person. Reservations due Wednesday by calling 325-437-5683.