Auburn group drops ‘garden club’ from name

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 7, 2009

NATCHEZ — Have you ever felt that your name doesn’t fit who you are?

Members of the Auburn Garden Club sure have.

So much so that the club recently changed their name to the Auburn Antebellum Home.

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Gone are the words “garden” and “club.”

“It didn’t fit who we are,” President Phyllis Feiser said Monday afternoon while welcoming visitors to the antebellum house on Duncan Avenue. “Our name needed to represent what we really do.”

And that really isn’t gardening, board member Donna Martello said.

“At one time we may have aspired to that, but no longer,” Martello said. “We don’t focus on gardening. We don’t host flower shows. We focus strictly on historic preservation.”

In fact, since the club took over the maintenance and operations of the house for the city in 1972, the club’s mission and purpose has always been to take care of Auburn.

Natchez Mayor Jake Middleton and the Board of Aldermen recently approved the name change because the city leases the house and property to the club.

But the name change is not cosmetic, past president Dottie McGehee said.

“It is more than a name change,” McGehee said. “It is about matching our name to our mission.”

McGehee and other members hope the name change signals a new direction for the club in the eyes of the community. The club hopes to attract new members. In particular, the group is seeking a more diverse membership, including men who might have shied away from the traditional image of garden clubs.

“We are seeking people who are interested in historic preservation,” McGehee said.

“We want to broaden our membership,” Feiser said. “We want to attract a more diverse group of people.”

This is not the first time the club has changed its name.

Originally the club was named the Town and Country Garden Home Extension Club in 1964.

Started as a traditional garden club, the Town and Country Garden Club didn’t change its name to the Auburn Garden Club until 1984, 12 years after the club took responsibility for the house.

In those years, the Auburn Garden Club’s group of volunteers have maintained and preserved the house. In the beginning the club operated a bed and breakfast from the house. Now the club offers tours throughout the year to tourists.

The organization is currently preparing for the house’s 200th anniversary in 2012.

“It is strictly volunteers that work year round to keep it running,” McGehee said.

“This is truly a labor of love and we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t,” Feiser said.