By B.C. Manion
When Lorraine Dabney joined the GFWC Lutz-Land O’ Lakes Woman’s Club about four decades ago, she had two goals.
She wanted to meet new friends and she wanted to volunteer.
She had just moved to Florida from Tennessee, her children were grown and she had extra time on her hands.
“One of my neighbors invited me to come to a club meeting and I was hooked,” said the 79-year-old Land O’ Lakes woman who is the club’s longest active member.
Through four decades, Dabney has served the club in a multitude of roles, including president. This year, as the club celebrates its 50th anniversary, she received its coveted honor of Woman of the Year.
“I was kind of surprised,” said Dabney, who has a warm and humble way about her.
“I knew I had been nominated,” she said. But she didn’t think she would win.
“I’m still active in the club, but nowhere near where I used to be because of physical limitations,” she said.
Typically, the award goes to someone who has been extremely active in the immediate past year, Dabney said.
She should know. She’s seen lots of club members come and go. The honor is awarded just once a year and a member can win it just one time.
After she won, Dabney said, “Several people said, “Well, I thought you’d already been the Woman of the Year,” Dabney said.
Dabney deserves the distinction, said club president Edwina Kraemer.
“Lorraine was selected for her years of faithful duty. She was a chair on almost every committee. She has been so active,” Kraemer said.
To even qualify for consideration, members must exhibit extensive leadership and longevity in the club, Kraemer said.
Dabney, who was born in Alabama, exudes grace and goodwill, Kraemer said.
“She’s just a genteel Southern lady. With that charisma, she has increased our membership. She’s increased cooperation. She is the epitome of what a leader should be,” Kraemer said.
She is also outgoing and fun, Kraemer said.
Dabney said she subscribes to a philosophy that she believes is shared by fellow club members: “We know that beating people over the head doesn’t work. You almost have to love people into doing things. I think when people know that you really care about them and what is happening in their lives, then they recognize you as a good force, not something to fight against,” Dabney said.
The group enjoys a sterling reputation for its long history of community service.
It’s a reputation that the club has earned, Dabney said. “I think we’re proud of it, but we’re not resting on our laurels.”
Every summer the group has a planning meeting to evaluate what it is doing and to decide if they want to continue specific efforts or let them go, Dabney said.
During her time with the club, Dabney said the total number of members hasn’t changed, but its outreach efforts have expanded enormously.
In the beginning, the club helped a few community groups. Now, it helps numerous community organizations and causes beyond the communities of Lutz and Land O’ Lakes.
Helping others goes beyond pitching in at events. The club also must raise money so it can provide financial help to the groups it supports.
“I think one of the coolest things that we do is we sponsor the big art show that we do in December in Lake Park. That is one of our biggest fundraisers,” Dabney said.
Another cause, one of Dabney’s favorites, is providing canine companions for people who need service dogs.
The club began buying puppies for that program about a quarter-century ago, when Dabney was the chairwoman of the club’s Home Life committee.
“I ran into a young man at Kash n’ Karry who had his service dog. Being a nosy person, I went up to him and I said, ‘Our state (organization) has canine companions as one of our projects. Tell me a little about it.’
“He was a quadriplegic. He’d broken his neck on his honeymoon. We became friends. He came to our club and had his dog demonstrate his skills and the woman’s club became totally enamored of canine companions.”
Ever since then, the club has provided money to purchase a puppy each year. The dogs are then trained by an organization that provides them to people in need.
“Another thing we do is scholarships. These are not only for high school seniors but also women who are returning to the workforce,” she said.
The club also works to raise awareness to prevent spouse abuse, Dabney said, noting that such abuse is on the rise during these difficult economic times.
Dabney said helping others has helped her, too.
“I feel like I’ve grown as a person. I think that I’ve touched lives,” she said.
Club members also provide a huge support network for one another, during their times of need.
“I had the experience of losing my son (Kennon Dabney) last year and if it had not been for the members of this club and Women of Faith at my church, I don’t know what I would have done,” Dabney said.
“They hosted a marvelous reception at his memorial and there must have been 150 people there. My son didn’t even live in Tampa. He lived in Bradenton. So I think that’s testimony to their heart.”
Her son died of lung cancer. He was just 54.
“The one good thing that came of his death is that everyone in my family who were smokers, quit. So good did come of it. I’m a firm believer that God brings good out of tragedy.”
Dabney said the woman’s club gives women a chance to work together collectively for the good of the community.
“I think the most important thing that anybody can think is: ‘What kind of an imprint am I going to leave when I’m gone?”
“Will I really make a difference, not only in my family’s life, but in my neighbor’s, my community, my state? So many tend to think, Well, I’m only one person. I can’t do anything.
The woman’s club offers individual women a venue for coming together to become an incredible force for good, Dabney said.
“We’re part of the largest international women’s club in the world. So we wield a lot of power. We can bring about change.”