Strength in Numbers
Story by Meredith Jackson | Photography by Julie Carter
Decatur resident Jo Caulkins has experienced a great deal throughout the seasons of her life.
She’s held both paid and volunteer positions with the Decatur Area Arts Council, Gallery 510, Macon County Health Foundation, Garden Club of Decatur, Decatur & Macon County Animal Care Foundation, Decatur Daycare, Keep Macon County Beautiful, and others. She was a fixture in downtown Decatur at her store, Just a Couple of Cards, for more than 15 years, until she retired in 2000 for the first time, as she says.
In every position, Caulkins found joy and fulfillment in being with local residents and bringing them together. And upon entering a new season of her life, she couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Two years ago, Caulkins decided she needed a little guidance to show her just where to focus her efforts. For that, she turned to Mac & Cheese Productions, a company that empowers adults to discover their next best thing through get-away-from-it-all camps and seminars.
“When I turned 60, I went to that camp,” says Caulkins. “I was trying to decide what I was going to do with the next decade of my life. I still had gifts to share, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. It was difficult to serve on boards when I was spending three to four months traveling each year, so I spent two days just examining how I was going to apply my gifts to fit my life.”
Caulkins asked herself what she was truly passionate about, and the answer was clearly people — as it had always been. She decided to dedicate the coming years to friends and family. To begin, she revived a gathering of women, which had been on an extended hiatus since her travels made it challenging for regular get-togethers.
The group was called Wednesday Women. Caulkins had started the group in 2000 as a way to meet with friends just for fun — no dues, no funds to raise, and no speaker to hear, other than the great conversation among the women themselves. When her seasonal travels began, Wednesday Women was put on hold. But with her new priorities firmly in place, Caulkins sent out the word that the group was meeting once again in September of 2013.
There were only twelve in the first group that met at Lincoln Lounge, she recalls. “But once I introduced them to each other, they found they had common bonds and took off talking,” says Caulkins. “It was a great joy for me to find out that they enjoyed each other.”
In the year and half since, the group has grown to include as many as 60. Caulkins feels the success of Wednesday Women is due in large part to its informality. She makes a reservation at a locally-owned restaurant, usually in downtown Decatur, and sends out the invitation via Facebook to meet on the second Wednesday evening of each month.
Ladies of all ages and walks of life are invited to drop in any time from 5 to 9 p.m. They can eat or not, drink or not, stay for the entire time or not — whatever’s convenient for them.
“Life is hard at times,” says Diana Manning, who frequents the meetings. “You love your family and your spouse or your significant other, but there are just times when you just (need) your girlfriend times.”
Manning, an artist who creates sculptures, mixed medium canvases, jewelry, and drawings, taught art at Decatur’s Catholic schools for 25 years. She’s retired from teaching, but stays busy with her art and her friendships.
“Meeting other women that are strong strengthens you and makes you a better person,” she says. “Even if I am 65 and may not have the same stresses as a 25-year-old, I did at one time, and I do understand and can relate.”
Linda Dawson also gains strength and support from her friends, some old and some new and many of whom she sees at Wednesday Women. Two years ago, Dawson had a stroke, which limits her mobility, but she has learned to drive one-handed.
“Parallel parking is the only thing that still scares me,” she laughs.
Dawson keeps her mind busy at home with her computer and television, but Wednesday Women provides her a regular social opportunity.
“It’s good just being able to get out and sit around with people and talk to them,” she says. “I’ve made some new friends, and now we are connected on Facebook. It’s all about the networking thing, but it’s networking outside of networking for work. It’s just to be good friends.”
With three children and a network marketing sales position with Arbonne International, Jessica Willcut is at a different stage in her life. But she also appreciates Wednesday Women.
“With the hustle and bustle of my life, I wasn’t doing anything with or connected to people, and I was even having a hard time connecting with my friends,” she says. “Then a friend forwarded me an email invitation to Wednesday Women. I feel like I can go there and sit with a group, and then get up and sit at a completely different table. I can sit anywhere and socialize.”
It gives Caulkins great fulfillment to visit with as many women as she can during each gathering. Her heart has been touched to see how Wednesday Women has brought together women to provide support not only for daily stresses, but also for life’s toughest trials.
“I stopped at a table one time where a mother was concerned about her child who had learning disabilities,” she says. “Next to her was a teacher and mother who had gone through the same kinds of things, and this gentle soul was helping her understand that one can live through these things.
“I kept thinking, this is what I meant when I said that women are their own best speakers.”
Contributor Meredith Jackson is thankful for the wisdom and love she receives from the most important women in her life, who just happen to live around the world.
This article originally appeared in the April/May 2015 issue of Decatur Magazine.
It may not be reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part without the publisher’s consent.
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