All about herbs

SALEM- A new group focused on herbs is part of an ongoing revival to preserve the Ruth Smucker House on South Broadway and reinvigorate the Salem Federation of Women’s Clubs, which oversees the historic home.

Known as the Smucker House Herb Guild, in a nod to both the home and the woman whose name it bears, the group will host its first meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Smucker House, 271 S. Broadway Ave.

The program will feature a talk on “The Wonderful World of Herbs” by Pat Fuller, a Certified Ohio State Master Gardener Volunteer and Director of Friends of the Greenhouse Consortium at Packard Park in Warren, where Fuller lives and gardens and holds the honorary title City of Warren Master Gardner.

She’ll tell the history, myths and lore of herbs, discuss how to grow and use herbs and touch on their culinary uses and medicinal history. A passionate gardener, she planted thousands of herbs this year and sold 25 different types.

Anyone who likes herbs or wants to learn more about them can join the Smucker House Herb Guild, which plans to meet the first Wednesday of every month and join the Salem Federation of Women’s Clubs.

Jack Kothera explained that a group of preservationists became involved in the home and he and some others were looking for a way to support the Smucker House. A car ride where they were all talking about herbs led to the Smucker House Herb Guild.

He said plans call for the possible planting of an herb garden, holding an herb fair in the fall after the harvest and holding a herb sale of young plants in the spring. The group will host educational programs and social activities, too. Member Connie Sanor said anybody is welcome to join.

Some other members so far include Elaine Rousseau Kothera, Ginger Grilli and Margaret Sweitzer, who was a founding member of the Salem Federation of Women’s Clubs and first met Ruth Smucker in the 1930s when she was 6 or 7 years old at the Salem First Methodist Church, which is across the street.

She recalled Ruth Smucker as a very active woman in the community who entertained in her home. She was a doctor’s wife living on a street known as Doctor’s Row in Salem, where many physicians lived and had offices in their homes. She served as Superintendent of the Junior Department at the church, teaching Sunday school to children. She and her husband, Roy, had no children of their own.

Ladies would gather in her home for some of their church clubs because the church was growing and running out of room. To ensure that would continue after her death, which occurred in 1953, she bequeathed the house for the Salem Federation of Women’s Clubs.

“She decided to have this house saved for the community for the ladies to have their various clubs,” Jack Kothera said.

Sweitzer said some clubs had already been meeting there when they formed the federation.

“We were so excited when this came up, the idea of a federation,” she said, explaining that when the clubs met in their homes, that meant they had to clean and prepare and now they would have an elegant place to call home.

Edna Hanson served as the house manager and lived there along with some boarders. She would help the clubs prepare and Sweitzer always remembered the elegance of the tea service and everything associated with the house.

“I think it’s so important that we remember a kinder, simpler time in Salem, a time of elegance,” she said.

In its heyday, the federation counted 29 clubs in its membership with the home as the hub, including such groups as the Leornians, Salem Music Study Club, Senior Book Club, Mothers of Twins, Quota Club, Travelers, and two different garden clubs, with both ladies and gentlemen as members. By last year, the federation was down to just two actively-meeting clubs, the book club and the bridge club and a women’s sorority which had honorary status.

The Salem Preservation Society joined the federation in January and has been trying to encourage other groups and clubs to join the federation or even just use the Smucker House for an event.

“We just want people to become a part of it,” Grilli said.

Groups who join the federation pay dues of $25 per member for the year, which is then used for upkeep and expenses for the home, which can also be rented out for events. Grilli is now the point person for using the home and can be reached at 330-337-7225. No alcohol is permitted.

The home is undergoing some work to spruce it up. Built in 1870, the home includes 12 rooms and a large wrap-around porch. Grilli said there was a possibility the resource could have been lost, prompting the Salem Preservation Society to become involved.

“We did what we could to ensure the Smucker House remained a community resource,” she said.

The group used the Smucker House as a stop for the Chocolate Crawl earlier this year and the newly-formed herb group just hosted a Strawberry Social.

As in the beginning, Sweitzer remains involved through the Smucker House Herb Guild. Jack Kothera said he had a conversation with her and she told him “she is Ruth Smucker’s hands and feet of today.”

“I just knew her so well and know what she wanted,” Sweitzer said.