Vermillion overwhelmed by Celebration of Women Saturday Lacotah Hall in the Coyote Student Center at USD was filled to capacity Saturday as nearly 400 women participated in a Sisterhood of Purple brunch. Many of the women who visited Vermillion for its first "Celebration of Women" are members of the Red Hat Society, which has over 10,000 chapter nationwide. The women wore purple clothing and bold, red hats. (Photo courtesy of Cindy Johnson Brown) by David Lias Despite months of preparation, Gloria Christopherson, her crew at her downtown business, Nook 'n Cranny, and scores of other Vermillion business people didn't know exactly what to expect.
"I initially had been rather conservative, thinking that possibly if we had 100 people that wanted to be a part of this, that would be wonderful," she said. "And when we surpassed that a month or so ago, and then were at 350 and ultimately ended up with 370 people, I can't quite tell you what it felt like."
Women from 12 states gathered at the Coyote Student Center on The University of South Dakota campus Saturday morning to visit vendor booths set up by local businesses and to take part in "Celebration of Women" festivities organized by Christopherson.
"I can't quite tell you what it felt like when I walked from the vendor booths, and they were all set up and ready to go, and I looked at my registration tables and I couldn't see the end of the corridor because there were so many people, so many women dressed in red hats and purple clothing."
A major part of the celebration was a "Sisterhood of Purple" brunch held in the CSC's Lacotah Hall.
"All I could see from one end of that room to the other was just a sea of bodies," Christopherson said. "It was just unbelievable. I've never been in Lacotah when it was literally packed."
Most of the women taking part in the celebration were members of Red Hat Society chapters. The Red Hat Society is a growing organization of women around the nation. In just three years, more than 10,000 official chapters have started, with 13 in Sioux Falls alone.
The Red Hat Society sprang from the popular poem titled When I am an Old Woman, I Shall Wear Purple, by Jenny Joseph.
So it was only natural that nationally-acclaimed author Jody Houghton was the guest of honor at Saturday's celebration.
Houghton is known for her book, Girlfriend Wisdom. She is also an entrepreneur, developing products for women based on Joseph's poem.
The verse is what provided the inspiration for Houghton's business, which sells greeting cards, gift items and, most recently, her book.
While addressing the women, Houghton talked about how she became an entrepreneur.
"Jody uses a word, and it's on one of her t-shirts, and it just kind of says it all," Christopherson said. "The word is bodacious."
On the front of Girlfriend Wisdom, Houghton writes "May your life be a bold adventure,
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may your days be filled with gales of laughter, and may you love bodaciously."
"That's kind of a good motto to live by, don't you suppose?" Christopherson said.
The day's activities weren't limited to the Coyote Student Center. Each woman who attended the brunch received a gift bag containing an autographed copy of Houghton's book.
The bags were also filled with coupons and other materials that enticed the women to visit Vermillion's downtown retail shops.
"The streets were just like a snake of women going in and out of stores and all dressed up and taking part in our community," Christopherson said. "It was a good thing."
She said some Vermillion residents have told her they drove up and down the Main Street just to view the city's special visitors walking up and down sidewalks and going in and out of stores.
"That was very gratifying to me," Christopherson said, who initially decide to hold the Celebration of Women to recognize the 30th anniversary of Nook 'n Cranny in downtown Vermillion. "The merchants, a lot of my neighbors down here, were very supportive of this project, and had coupons, and, for instance, Victorian West was hosting an open house last weekend, and Deb's Hallmark was hosting a festival with Boyd's Bears.
"We had coupons from a lot of businesses in the community that they could use and partake of things," she said.
The coupons have no expiration date. Christopherson said she and others involved hope they will serve as a teaser to compel the women to come to Vermillion again and shop.
"We've made them aware of what we have," she said. "We're heading into our biggest selling season in retail, and we hope they will come back for our holiday open house and all of the other things that go on, such as football and basketball games."
The celebration did more than kick-off Nook 'n Cranny's 30th year.
"I wanted it to be something that would make area people aware of Vermillion and what we have to offer," she said.
Vermillion businesses responded warmly and "did great things" to help make this first-time event a success here, Christopherson said.
Even though Lacotah was filled with nearly 400 people, she said the gathering remained intimate.
"We represented 12 states, and that's a fourth of our country, and I think that says a heck of a lot," Christopherson said.
Women of all ages and a variety of generations attended.
"There were multi-generations, there were mothers and daughters, there were people who were 20, and at least some people who were 90 years old or better," she said.
Women 50 and older wore purple. Those under 50 wore pink. And nearly everyone sported a bold, red hat.
Christopherson believes the event was successful because of the fellowship the women enjoyed.
"Just celebrating life has become a real necessary thing for all of us to do," she said. "I think one of the beauties of the Sisterhood (of Purple) and the Red Hat Society in general ? is women who would normally be sitting alone at home or in a nursing home or in assisted living ? are a part of something like this.
"Every month, they get to go and do something fun. It has just given them a whole new lease on life. They are 20 years old again in their heads. They are just having a ball," she said.
Red Hat Society members normally get together once a month. They may go out to eat, or visit a museum, or take in a show at a theatre.
"Twelve times a year, some ladies who normally have nothing at all have the chance to get together and have a really great time," Christopherson said. "They get dressed up. They can be as outrageous as they want to be, and nobody is going to question it."
She and other Vermillion merchants who participated in Saturday's events plan to do all over again next year in early October.
Christopherson said all of the vendors who participated in Saturday's event have let her know they want to be included in next year's celebration. New vendors have contacted her, too.
"We're going to have to find a bigger venue. I don't know where it's going to be ? we had to turn away a lot of people even a month out who wanted to get in (to the brunch)," she said.
Christopherson made sure they received coupons to use at other dining establishments in Vermillion because there was no room left in Lacotah Hall.
Even though they couldn't participate in the main luncheon, those women visited Vermillion, and will be the first people invited to next year's event.
Ten women involved in SIFE (Students in Free Enterprise) in the University of South Dakota's School of Business assisted by helping vendors move their materials in to their booths and by manning registration tables.