New not necessarily true

Group: The Newcomers Club welcomes recent arrivals, and they can stay in the club as long as they like. Many do.

January 16, 2001|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

The Newcomers Club of Howard County has a little secret: Many of its members are not so new.

Take Jeannice Bulson - who's still involved 37 years after she helped form the group.

Blame it on the attraction of the women's-only club, which has enough activities, from tours to computers, to keep members busy every week. Not all clubs for newcomers allow such longevity. Some, in a truth-in-advertising move, kick members out after a few years.

But leaders with the Howard County group won't hear of such a thing.

Who says old-timers can't be Newcomers?

"We don't have that rule here," said Ellicott City resident Gloria Roman, who joined in 1971.

"We're too comfortable," said 26-year member Mary Jane Fleck, smiling broadly.

More than 100 women are in the group, and a third to a half have been members at least five years, leaders estimate. Having a core of longtime members works out well for honest-to-goodness newcomers, who rely on the voice of experience for good doctors, car repair shops and other necessities.

"They can take you by the hand and show you the county," said President Sandra Gravel, who joined within a month of moving to Ellicott City from Illinois slightly more than a year ago.

Gravel said she has lived in six states - and belonged to Newcomers clubs in nearly all of those places.

"It's a lifeline," she said.

It's also an instant social group. Members quilt, play tennis, make crafts, study investing, are hosts of cocktail parties, go to the theater and do the sorts of things that people mean to do "but you don't get to them on your own," said Lynn Lawton of North Laurel, who moved from Montgomery County seven years ago.

"You could probably stay busy almost every day of the month," she said.

One recent Thursday morning, five women gathered around Beatrice Duchamp's table in Ellicott City to show her their research for a new Newcomers project - a Web site.

Skilled in the ins and outs of the Internet, Duchamp offered to teach other members the basics.

"I'm here for only a few years," said Duchamp, who moved to Howard County from France a year and a half ago for her husband's job. "I want when I leave that someone in the club will be able to take my place, will be able to care for the Web site."

She suggested that members keep it simple: A nice introductory page with a map of Maryland and Howard County, a few pages of information about the club and a bunch of links to other local sites.

Oh, and one other thing.

"Write on our intro page that you don't have to be new to the area," said Linda Stright, who moved to Columbia 2 1/2 years ago but was sitting across from a woman who has lived in the county 47 years.

Other Newcomers gather to play canasta twice a month, although not just for the cards.

"They're counseling sessions; they are definitely counseling sessions," said Fleck, laughing. "When you get here, you need a friendly base, so you join the Newcomers Club - and you get a family."

Although she doesn't get out much nowadays, Bulson makes a point to join several activities a year. She was one of about a dozen women who founded the club in 1964.

"At that time, it was started out to be newcomers," Bulson said - meaning true-blue new to the area.

But the group evolved.

She remembered getting a letter from the national Newcomers group in the early 1980s, asking her why it was that the only requirements for membership were to be female and a Howard County resident.

"You can stay in as long as you want to," Bulson wrote back, politely - but firmly.

She thinks it's good for the club. And anyway, new is relative.

She moved to Ellicott City 37 1/2 years ago from Nebraska, when Columbia was just an idea and horses roamed quiet streets.

But keep this in mind:

"I still feel like a newcomer," Bulson said.

Information on the Newcomers Club of Howard County: Sandra Gravel, 410-750-1791.

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