By Tiffany Merlo Phelps
Nancy Smith and Mary Ellen Fleming both moved to Northern St. Johns County seven years ago from Long Island, NY, to be closer to their grandchildren, not knowing each other until they both joined the Newcomers of North St. Johns (NNSJ) and ultimately became friends.
Today Smith, former co-president, is the parliamentarian of the 266-member social organization that formed in 2004. Fleming, who has also held the position of president, treasurer and parliamentarian, is heading up the “Books and Brunch” group. Newcomers of North St. Johns is part of the National Newcomers Association and is open to anyone interested in joining. After paying annual dues of $25, every member receives a monthly newsletter filled with newcomer tips and a list of social opportunities.
For Smith, a retired social work director at a New York City hospital, her goal was to meet people in the area. She lives with her daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren, aged six to 13, and helps to pick up the children from school and drive them to after school activities.
“I really didn’t know anyone my own age. And this gave me an opportunity to become close friends with other ladies,” said Smith. “I love it. It gets me out of the house, and I am able to get to know a lot of different places in our area.”
Fleming, a seven-year member, is a retired Long Island high school history and journalism teacher. She lives near her daughter and 15-year-old grandson and just happened to hear about Newcomers of North St. Johns.
“The bottom line is women need girlfriends,” said Fleming, a Heritage Landing resident. “When you are younger, you know people as a couple, through your children and your job. Once you are retired, life is different. I love the clubs, the activities, and, first and foremost, the friendships.”
While Newcomers of North St. Johns had to cancel all events for the past six months because of the pandemic, they are slowly getting back to hosting social events with safety guidelines in place, Smith said. The next event will be the October luncheon, open to any St. Johns County area resident, on Tuesday, Oct. 20, beginning at 11 a.m. The luncheon will be held at the Bonefish Grill in Mandarin. The event features lunch and a musical presentation by local guitarist and singer Faith Myron. In adherence to COVID guidelines, there is limited seating, and all reservations must be received by Oct. 10. Cost for the luncheon and program is $30 for members and $35 for guests, and the doors will open at 10:30 a.m.
October’s lunch is part of the monthly business luncheons hosted by the group and held at different locations. It is held on the third Tuesday of every month and has included locations such as Epping Forest and the Jacksonville Yacht Club.
“It is more like a wedding with a five-course meal, centerpieces and entertainment,” said Smith, who has been a member for five years.
Smith, who lives in South Hampton, also looks forward to the cultural bus trips that the group takes twice a year to places such as Jekyll Island, St. Augustine and Daytona Beach. In addition, Newcomers of North St. Johns includes three lunch groups, meeting at the St. Johns Town Center (Shop and Lunch), St. Augustine (Let’s Do Lunch) and the Avenues (Movie and Lunch). Members can also join clubs such as Bunco, Golf, Book Club, Canasta and Mahjong. All of these activities will resume with COVID guidelines in place.
New Member and Publicity Chairperson Michele Oliver retired last year from the Palencia Club where she had served as the membership director for 11 years. She was concerned about being bored after working in public relations for 40 years and maintaining a very busy schedule.
“So, I decided to attend a Newcomers luncheon last May and was so impressed with the friendliness of the members and variety of social activities, I joined that day,” said Oliver, who has lived in the Fruit Cove Forest neighborhood for 30 years. Her son and two grandchildren live in Julington Creek, and the grandchildren now attend the same elementary school that her son attended when they first moved to the area.
As part of her volunteer publicity duties, Oliver takes photos for the group as well.
“It’s been a wonderful decision, and I really encourage ladies to consider joining this fun group of active women. It is a great way for women to meet new friends, especially if they are new to the area, and to connect with ladies to enjoy fun activities,” she said.
At the end of the year, the Newcomers of Northern St. Johns makes a $1,000 to $2,000 donation to a local charity. Past recipients include St. Johns County Community Hospice, Our Lady of Good Counsel Food Pantry and the AAUW Stem Camp for Girls. The group also provides support to the St. Augustine Library by buying and donating children’s books and making a cash donation.
Anyone interested in becoming a member should email Membership Coordinator Sue Aird at email@example.com.
Photos courtesy Michele Oliver
Newcomers of North St. Johns’ fashion show models at Ruths Chris.