Red Bridge Social Club started when 21 houses populated the area

Truman impersonator
The Red Bridge Social Club hosts guest speakers such as president impersonator Raymond Starzmann. The March 19th luncheon hosts Irish balladeer Tom Meehan

Red Bridge Social Club Celebrates 60 Years

By Jan Marsh

Many things have changed in the Red Bridge subdivision in the past 60 years, but one thing has stayed the same – the Red Bridge Social Club.

The year was 1958 and there were only 21 residences in Red Bridge, a year and a half after the J.C. Nichols Co. had registered its plat of the new neighborhood.

Among the first residents were John and Florence Gibbons on 109th Terrace.  “There were dirt roads, no clubs, no businesses, no buses, nothing,” Florence was quoted as saying in a 1998 story in the Kansas City Star.  “We felt like pioneers.”

She also felt that the women living in this far south side development should form a club for companionship.  She convinced a neighbor to host a brown-bag lunch at her house if Gibbons would organize it. A postcard was mailed and 21 women showed up for that first gathering of the Red Bridge Social Club on Jan. 24, 1958.

The monthly lunches soon moved to restaurants and often included entertainment by local musicians and storytellers.  

The format has remained largely unchanged since then as the club prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary on March 19.  However, the club also has changed in ways that reflect the changes in society.

Red Bridg shopping Center 1959
This aerial view of the Red Bridge Shopping Center was taken in 1959, around the time the Red Bridge Social club was getting started. 

In 1958, most of the women in Red Bridge were stay-at-home mothers.  Helen Michaelson, who still lives in Red Bridge, attended that first lunch.  “We were eager to meet new families with young children,” she recalls.

The Michaelsons had met Gibbons soon after moving into Red Bridge.  “She was the one who kept everything going,” Michaelson said.

As the neighborhood grew, so did the Red Bridge Social Club.  Helen Koncak and her husband moved into Red Bridge in 1968 and she joined the club within six months, served as president twice and remains a member today.

Gibbons felt strongly that membership in the social club should be restricted to women who lived in the J.C. Nichols development.  As the subdivision grew to 874 houses, membership in the club was capped at 100.

Koncak said there was a waiting list of women who wanted to join.   “It was a status symbol to be a member,” she said. She also recalled the hurt feelings of women who lived in nearby neighborhoods and couldn’t join.

However, membership began to decline in the early 1990s as more women entered the workforce and active involvement in community organizations fell nationwide.

So in 1993, the club changed its bylaws to allow members from outside of Red Bridge.  That change stabilized membership for awhile, but the downward trend returned. Today, membership stands at 57, with well over half living outside of Red Bridge.  New members always are welcomed. Dues are $15 yearly.

The club still meets every third Monday from September through May for entertainment and a good meal at moderately priced venues in the southern part of the metro area.   Several are designated as “guest days” when spouses and friends also can attend.

In the past year, programs have included a Truman re-enactor talking about art and the American presidency, an Irish folk musician, the president of the Union Cemetery Historical Society and a genealogist.

As the club prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary, one presence will be missing:  Florence Gibbons. She died in early 2016, just shy of 92.  She had served tirelessly on the club’s board, including her last 25 years as its vice president in charge of programs.  

“Florence was always the driving force,” said 50-year member Koncak.   Michaelson, a member until just last fall, said, “She was something else.”

Jan Marsh is co-chairman of publicity for the Red Bridge Social Club.  For more information, email RBSocialClub@yahoo.com.

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