Linda Prior, Marie Buss and BJ Mays (l-r) wear crocheted baby blankets they created for Holly House at First Presbyterian Church in Delray Beach. Buss is 93 and Mays is 91. On this occasion they gathered at Buss’ house. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
Crafters at First Presbyterian of Delray Beach, including some dynamic nonagenarians, keep Holly House hopping as it marks its 50th year
By Janis Fontaine
During the past 50 years, the ladies of Holly House have been praised for giving more than $250,000 to their church, First Presbyterian of Delray Beach, and local charities.
People laud them for the longevity of both their annual rummage sale and Holiday Gift Shoppe, which have raised most of that money. Others speak of their admiration for the women’s creativity and craftsmanship, while bargain hunters marvel at the deals they get on a cornucopia of handmade items the women make and sell.
But more than the money, more than the history and more than the joy of stretching their creative muscles, it’s the relationships that sustain these women. When they lose someone, it’s still a shock. But in the same way many hands make light work, the ladies of Holly House provide many shoulders to lean on.
Helen Antal, 92, one of the oldest ladies of Holly House, died in August. She was a “Table Lady,” part of a team of versatile crafters who could easily learn new projects. Helen took her place beside Marie Buss, 93, and BJ Mays, 91, every Tuesday, where they brought almost three centuries of handcrafting experience to the table.
And Helen was a top recruiter; she told anyone who would listen how much fun Holly House was. She said, “It’s a way to make new friends and contribute your time and talent to raise money for church improvements.”
It was easy to get BJ involved. She and her husband visited quite a few churches before they found First Presbyterian, and it wasn’t long before BJ found the ladies of Holly House.
Marie was different. She needed coaxing. “I’m not a go-getter,” Marie said, “but Helen welcomed me and got me involved. She made me laugh.”
Their friendship blossomed and they even vacationed together with their husbands, so Helen’s death hit Marie especially hard. But there, right beside her, were her Holly House friends, ready to support her.
Now at home with a back injury, Marie keeps her fingers dancing with a crochet hook, turning yarn to baby blankets and lap robes.
“There are eight ladies who are in their 90s,” said BJ, the youngest-looking 91-year-old ever.
But attrition isn’t an issue. New members, in search of a diversion or friends or to give back to the community, continue to join.
“That’s how God works in our lives,” BJ said.
About 30 women meet for a couple of hours on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Some come every week, others when they can. It’s a relaxed setting, like the quilting bees of the mid-1800s when women would gather to work on one another’s quilts. Bees were also social events where women counseled and encouraged each other. And maybe they exchanged a bit of gossip.
The ladies of Holly House make more than quilts. They craft one-of-a-kind items, from jewelry to tableware. They have made wreaths from recycled corks and trees from seashells. Knitted, crocheted, painted, sewed, quilted, embellished, repaired or decorated, the results all show the ladies’ magic.
Some women have their own passion projects: Tina Pinto likes to make teddy bears. Animal lover Nancy Crell makes dog treats and toys. The florists have an array of wreaths and trees, coastal decorations highlighting mermaids and plenty of poinsettias and holly berries.
But many items are coastal products intended to be perfect in our homes by the sea all year long, like the all-season lighthouse trees, driftwood crosses, oyster shell wreaths and sandscapes in glass containers.
And that money they raised? It paid to restore the church’s Fellowship Hall and the memorial garden; it purchased custom-made cushions for the pews; it bought a golf cart and new refrigerator; it replaced the steeple blown down during a hurricane; and it upgraded the AV system, bringing better sound to the sanctuary.
Outside the church, the ladies of Holly House have supported Goodwill, Family Promise, Habitat for Humanity, the Haitian Foundation, Dress for Success and Ginger’s Closet. But the group’s grandest achievement came in 2013 when the ladies built their own space to hold Holly House in perpetuity.
Ocean Ridge resident Gina Logan (right) laughs with Delray Beach resident Jane Amme during work on last year’s Holiday Gift Shoppe. The holiday bazaar and the winter rummage sale are Holly House’s main fundraisers. Photos by Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
If it were a real business, the Gift Shoppe would have failed long ago. “We always charge the lowest price we possibly can,” BJ said.
But it’s not a business.
“The ladies are a sisterhood and the work is a mission,” said member Linda Prior, 76.
And it’s a mission the ladies plan to continue.
There is one thing they won’t do: Ask anyone in the group to analyze her productivity. Those crocheted pumpkins they’re going to sell for $3? It might take the ladies three hours to make one, which seems like a lot.
“How long it takes to make something depends on how much we talk,” BJ explains.
They could work faster if they didn’t talk so much. But the talking? It’s the most enjoyable part.
If You Go...
What: Holiday Gift Shoppe, handcrafted decorations, décor, jewelry, baby blankets and decorations.
Where: Holly House at First Presbyterian Church of Delray Beach, 33 Gleason St.
When: 10 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and Thursdays in October and November, beginning Oct. 8, except Thanksgiving Day, and 10 a.m. to noon Nov. 30, the Saturday following Thanksgiving. In December, the shoppe also will be open on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Info: 276-6338 or www.firstdelray.com/grow/women