Imagine being told that, as a woman in your mid-30’s, you are too old to be part of a Young Wives Club! This is what happened to Jenny Hough when she moved, with her family, to Howick in the 1970’s. Back then there was really nowhere for young wives and mothers to go, where they could enjoy a good meal, be entertained, make friends, and not have to take a plate, or do any fund-raising! Men had Rotary, Lions and Jaycees, where they gathered for dinner, friendship and Speakers, but for women there was nothing like that.

Howick did not have the varied dining options that abound here today. There was The Prospect (now The Good Home), an Italian restaurant on Picton Street, the Sunday Smorgasbord at Longview Lounge (now known as the Picton Centre), or further afield, a buffet meal at Waipuna Lodge.

So Jenny set about starting up a Dinner Club. With the encouragement of friends Nancy Edwards (who would become the first Vice-President), and Joan Hickman, who was appointed the first Hostess Convenor, Jenny approached the three ex-policemen who ran the Longview Lounge, to see if they could cater for about 100 prospective members. Not knowing many people, and reluctant to advertise, she approached the staff at Cockle Bay School, where her children were students, and the word spread.

In the months before the first event, Jenny’s daughter, Nicola would recall their phone ringing hot as people phoned to enquire about the inaugural dinner.

From the beginning, Members were encouraged to invite friends and neighbours to join the Club. Prospective Members can attend three dinner meetings as a Guest, before joining. Last year an article did appear in the Howick & Pakuranga Times in an effort to attract new members. It generated a good response, but Covid19 would close down the Dinner meetings again, and several weeks passed before we were able to invite the respondents to attend a dinner.

The inaugural meeting was held at the Longview Lounge in July 1975. The Howick Women’s Dinner Club was up and running, with a Membership of 100. The Membership fee was $5.00, and the cost per Dinner meeting, which included Dinner, Sherry and a Speaker, a mere $3.00!! Forty-seven years later, the Joining fee is $15, the Annual Subscription $40, and each monthly dinner costs $35.00.

For the first few months, the Club was a work in progress. A steering committee was formed to develop a Constitution. Discussions were held on meal presentation and table arrangements. At the outset, it was established that the Dinner Club would not be a Service Club, or have an affiliation with other clubs, raffles would not be set up, neither would the Club do any fundraising, however the Club would be happy to give an occasional donation to special charities, such as the Himalayan Trust, the Children’s Hospital (Starship) etc, a tradition which is still carried on today, usually at Christmas.

Traditions that have evolved include Hostesses who set tables, provide flowers for the tables, and serve wine (in the beginning, sherry) and numbered table seating (giving Members the chance to meet new people while dining each month – although some Members switched their numbers so they could sit with friends!).

While payment for our Dinners is now mostly done on-line, acceptance notices and cash have been dropped at the same jewellery store for 35 years (once L & K, it is now known as Honeybun Jewellers).

Although the Howick Women’s Dinner Club has moved to different locations over the years it has had a long association with the Howick Bowling Club and had an equally long association with Andrea and her A1 Caterers team who provided a varied and well-received meal. Back in 2010, Jenny was a Guest Speaker at an Eden Epsom Dinner Club, and was asked by one of the women at her table, if she “knew the caterer at our Dinner Club”, and “what did she think of the food?” After Jenny had replied with fulsome praise, the woman informed Jenny that Andrea was her daughter-in-law! Unfortunately, due to Covid 19, Andrea decided to hang up her catering apron.

At the 40th Anniversary, a night of ‘Glitz and Glam’, Jenny noted the number of Guest Speakers who addressed the Dinner meetings was almost 400, I believe the number must be edging towards 500 now. There have been a number of very memorable Speakers including Sir Edmund Hillary, June Mulgrew, Linda Clarke, Professor Peter Godfrey, Beryl Te Wiata, Don Binney, Professor Steve Hoadley, Anne Gluckman, John Hawkesby, Judge Mick Brown, Dame Augusta Wallace, Carmel Fisher, Nadia Lim, Dr Siouxsie Wiles, Susan Devoy, and the late Celia Lashlie, who was so well-received, that by special request she returned a year later to speak again.

Covid 19 has been a major concern for the Committee – the disappointing loss of A1 Caterers, just one of several concerns. Lockdowns meant dinners had to be cancelled and over the first two years of the pandemic, half the scheduled Dinner meetings were cancelled, and some Committee meetings were held via Zoom.

In the earlier days of the HWDC, there was a waiting list with as many as 10 people hoping to join, and in 2005 prospective members had a two-year wait.

Covid 19 has seen several Members reluctant to venture out, concerned not just for their own health, but also for their families. The Membership numbers have dropped in the past couple of years, but as the HWDC moves towards the 50th Anniversary in 2025, we plan on moving to the Howick Club, and hope that new members will find us there. We are a very friendly Club.

Val Rippey