And now you know: Pilot Club gave six decades of service to Orange

Published 7:55 pm Saturday, January 4, 2020

Mike Louviere, And Now you Know

The Pilot Club was a service organization for women only and was very active in Orange for 64 years. The Pilot Club had its own building, it was located on Fifth Street at Green Avenue. In its last years standing, the building was the home of the Thrift and Gift Shop.

In May 1989, at the club’s building, nearly 100 people including city, county, and civic leaders of Orange and visiting Pilot Club members from Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Galveston gathered to recognize the club’s 50 year anniversary.

Georgia Belile Singletary was the only charter member of the club still active at the 50-year mark. Singletary had served as toastmistress when the club celebrated its charter night at the Sunset Grove Country Club on July 18, 1939. The club began with 22 charter members.

The Pilot Club gave annual scholarships to local high school students and later to nursing students. They also had many other projects filling needs in the local community. In their last years, they had donated money to the Orange County Association of Retarded Citizens, the Rainbow Room that serves abused children, and the House of Refuge for the homeless.

Members paid dues and the club conducted annual fundraisers such as selling pecans, all-event wrapping paper, and hosting garage sales. 

Sadly, by the first of the year, 2003, the club’s membership had dropped to only six members. The decision was made to disband the club.

Ann Tyus had joined the club in 1944. In 1996, Tyus moved to Dallas but had stayed in touch with her friends in the Orange club. 

“I felt rotten when I heard the club (in Orange) was no more. In the past membership was never a problem, as far as I can remember we always kept between 30 and 40 members. I do not think we had a problem getting women to join because they knew what the club was about; that we were a service organization and not a social club,” said Tyus.

Mary Ellen Neil was one of the members recruited by Tyus in 1982. Neil’s 71-year-old sister had received a scholarship from the Pilot Club.

Neil said that for four or five years they had tried to keep the club going. 

“One member would recruit two or three new members, but the new members either would not or could not attend the monthly meetings. It takes a lot of commitment to be involved with a service organization,” Neil said.

Hester Perkins was another member recruited by Tyus. 

She said, “Younger women do not have the time or the money to give to a service club. They seem inclined to join social clubs.” 

Perkins said that after the death of her husband the club became a major part of her life.

Even as membership began to dwindle, the remaining club members tried to keep raising money for the club’s projects and scholarships. 

They donated $3,000 from their treasury to several local projects. The remaining $4,000 in the treasury was given to the Southeast Texas Brain Disorder Camp, an organization supported by the Pilot Club International.

Retired West Orange-Stark educator Kay Carlton was slated to be the incoming president of the club. The sitting president had moved to the Dallas area. 

It fell to Carlton to fill out the paperwork regarding the disbanding of the club. The paperwork was then sent to the state committee of the Pilot Club International which formally disbanded the Pilot Club of Orange.

The six remaining club members were long-time friends. They planned to stay in touch and keep informally meeting, sharing memories and “news” over lunches instead of meeting the second Tuesday of each month for club meetings.

“And now you know.”